PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You spend and spend your hard-earned money to pack the refrigerator and the pantry, and the minute you do a clock is ticking down the path to “expiration” and “use by” dates.

The USDA estimates that we throw out 96.4 billion pounds of food each year. For every family of four, that’s almost $600 of usable food that gets wasted.

So, here is a list culled from several sources that will help you hang on to some of your hard-earned money.

In the pantry:
Boxed food items like mac & cheese, or cake mixes, or dry mixes like rice combinations will often have a “Best By” or “Use By” dates.

Those dates are primarily established by the maker of the food to make sure when you eat it you are getting the taste and quality intended.

Realistically, the FDA says those items properly stored in a pantry or cabinet are good “for periods of time beyond the expiration date, and also are safe to eat.”

Just understand that the further from the date on the box the more the taste will diminish.

Sugar and salt are virtually good forever if they are properly stored and kept dry.

Flour will last a long time as well, but is prone to bug infestations. So, if you have any question about your flour, run it through a sifter to make sure it’s insect clear.

When it comes to canned goods, they fall in two categories.

Those with acidic qualities like tomatoes and pasta sauces can start acquiring a metallic taste from their can after 12 to 18 months. Non-acidic canned goods on the other hand can go three to five years.

In both cases, bulging cans and rust along the seals are a red flag, and that can should be tossed.

In the refrigerator:
Milk is still consumable for about a week after it’s Sell By date. Use the smell test and trust your nose. When in doubt throw it out.

Those lunch meats they cut for you in the deli at your local grocery store are good for a maximum of five days says the USDA. Prepackaged lunch meats have a much longer shelf life until they are opened. Once you break that seal, the five day clock starts ticking.

Chicken and fish are good for one to two days in the refrigerator while beef and pork are good for three to five days.

The exceptions are the ground products. Ground beef should be eaten or tossed after one to two days, and the same is true for uncooked sausage.

Hot dogs will last quite a while until you open the package. After that, eat them within a week or send them to the disposal.

Those expiration dates on salad dressings are usually Sell By dates, and the product remains good for up to six months after that date. But mayonnaise contains eggs and should be tossed two months after the jar is opened.

Eggs are good for three to five weeks after you get them home, unless you hard boil them and then they’re only good for a week.

Finally, your leftovers should be consumed or thrown out after three to four days.

USDA Food Safety Basics
FDA Food Resources for Consumers
Allegheny County Health Department Food Safety Division
More Health News

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