San Francisco Environment Department

Safe or Spoiled


Expiration dates on packaged food can be confusing. Your nose should clue you in to obvious spoilage. 

  • "Best before" and "use by" dates relate to peak flavor or quality, not to food safety. 
  • "Sell by" dates help the store determine how long to display a product. The product is still good to eat for a period after this date. 
  • Leftovers may be good in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

Additional Resources

Learn more about food product dating and storing leftovers. (US Department of Agriculture)
Keep It or Toss It? (Still Tasty) - Searchable guide to shelf life and FAQs
Food storage chart for cupboard, refrigerator, freezer (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Shelf life guide (FoodWise) - Printable guide on shelf life of common foods
Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook (USDA)
FAQs and live chat on food safety, storage, and handling (USDA)
The Dating Game: How Confusing Labels Land Billions of Pounds of Food in the Trash (National Resources Defense Council)

Next tip: Make soup stock.                             Love food? Shop your fridge.



closeup photo of expiration date on carton of milk
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