Spring is here! The fresh scent of flowers blooming, the sun slowly coming out and the days are getting longer and warmer. And with spring comes spring cleaning. While you’re emptying the closet, and wiping down the house, don’t forget to clean out your pantry, and most importantly your refrigerator.
Foods tend to enter, but never leave. Bottle after bottle of condiments hidden in the dark corners of the refrigerator, miscellaneous foods in jars. This is the perfect time of the year to give your refrigerator a good scrub and emptying.
To help you with your spring cleaning we’ve put together a guide on knowing what to keep and what to toss when it comes to the foods found in your kitchen. With the help of the printed dates on the package, your eyes and nose, your kitchen fridge will be organized in no time.
What are best before dates?
But first, what exactly are the dates that are printed on the package? What do they mean?
In Canada, the printed dates (aka “best before dates”) refer to the quality and the shelf life of an unopened product. It tells you how long a product will stay in its optimal condition. It guarantees the product’s freshness, texture and flavor up to that date, but it does not mean the product expires that day. By storing foods properly, they are likely to last beyond the printed date on your package. However, once you open a food item that date is no longer valid. When foods go bad will depend on the food and the conditions in which they are stored.
In the following section we break down which products can be safely consumed after their printed dates and for how long.
Did you know eggs have a right way up when it comes to storage? Eggs are packed, and should be stored, with their large end up which helps to keep the yolk centered. Fresh eggs can keep up to three weeks after the best before date without much loss in quality according to the Egg Farmers of Canada. To keep your eggs fresh, it is best to store them in their carton, not in the egg holders that come with your refrigerator. The space on your refrigerator door is too warm. Storing your eggs in the carton prevents odors and flavours from other foods from permeating through the eggshell.
The easiest way to tell if your eggs are fresh is by the Best Before Date on your egg carton so keep it around. Although it is not 100% accurate, you can test an egg’s freshness by floating it in water. A fresh egg will sink while an older egg will float. As an egg ages, the size of the air cell inside increases, causing it to float. If you suspect your eggs are going to go bad, hard boil them. That will extend their life for another week.
The shelf life of cheese depends on what kind of cheese it is. According to the Dairy Farmers of Canada, fresh cheeses will last anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks, soft cheeses, like brie and camembert, 1 week, semi-soft cheese, like Havarti, 2-3 weeks, firm cheeses, like Gouda and Cheddar, 5 weeks and hard cheeses, like Parmesan, can last as long as 10 months.
Sometimes mold can form on the cheese. Depending on the type of cheese you have, this may be a sign to throw it out. If the cheese is firm or hard, you can still eat it as long as you cut off the mold. Cut off the mold as well as the area around it (at least 1 centimeter surrounding the moldy part). If you spot mold in soft and shredded cheeses, you should throw it away.
Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk which means it is perishable and needs to be stored with care. Once it has been opened, tofu can keep for 2-3 days. To help keep it fresh, store your tofu in water. The water helps the tofu keep its moisture giving it a fresher flavor and a better consistency. That is why, many manufacturers will pack their tofu in water as well.
Typically the dates listed on salad dressings are “sell by dates” and most dressings last a couple months after the printed date. There are so many different types of dressings with lots of different ingredient combinations which means each dressing is unique.
Generally mayonnaise based dressings will expire before oil based dressings. For example, Ranch and Caesar dressing can remain fresh for 1-2 months, while Italian and Balsamic Vinaigrette can remain fresh for 3-4 months after the printed date. To preserve the freshness of all salad dressings, store opened containers in the refrigerator.
And what about homemade dressing? That will depend on what you put in it. In general it can keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. But the beauty of making your dressing is being able to make small batches of it when you need it.
An open jar of mayonnaise can last 2 -3 months after being opened if it has been stored correctly. Mayonnaise should always be kept in the refrigerator. Sources vary on the shelf life of unopened mayonnaise with jars lasting from one week to four months past the sell-by date. Mayonnaise that has gone bad will begin to look yellow and it will get thicker and lumpy over time as it ages
Peanut butter, with the exception of natural peanut butter, in general has a very long shelf life when left unopened. Once open, they last 3-4 months unrefrigerated and 6-8 months refrigerated. Natural peanut butter has a shelf life of 2-3 months after the printed date unopened and should be stored in the refrigerator once open allowing it to last 5-6 months.
A sign of your peanut butter going bad is if it has turned hard and dry. The color of the spread may also become darker and the pleasant peanut smell may have disappeared or smell rancid.
In natural peanut butter, it is normal for the oil to separate as the product does not contain stabilizers. Give it a quick stir to mix it back together. However, if the oil separates in commercial peanut butters that means that the peanut butter will soon go bad.
Commercially made peanut butters can be stored in the pantry, but natural peanut butters need to be kept in the refrigerator. Either way, both kinds can be kept fresher for longer by keeping it them in the refrigerator.
Pro Tip: To help keep track of when your bottles were open and how long they will last, write the day you opened the jar on the lid with a permanent marker.
Ketchup & Mustard
Both ketchup and mustard have a long shelf life. If left unopened ketchup can last up to 2 years and mustard can last 2 – 3 years in the pantry. Once open, both ketchup and mustard have a shelf life of 1 year in the refrigerator. However, over_ time, both will separated and turn thicker and darker than normal. This is a sign that it may be time to throw them out and purchase new bottles. You can help both condiments stay fresh longer by storing it them in the refrigerator in their original containers.
Yogurt has a shelf life of 1 -3 weeks past the printed date when unopened and stored in the refrigerator. Depending on the kind of yogurt that you have, you have varying dates. Those with fruit in it can last for 7 – 10 days, whereas plain yogurt can last as long as 3 weeks. Did you know you can freeze yogurt? It can last 1 – 2 months in the freezer.
As with all dairy products, it is important to store yogurt in the refrigerator. Once the package has been opened, yogurt can be kept for a few days if it is stored with the foil seal re-sealed or in a tightly closed container.
You can tell your yogurt has gone bad as soon as mold starts forming. The whole container needs to be thrown out. Live bacterial cultures in yogurt act as a preservative, but once those cultures start to die, mold starts to form.
Soy Sauce and Oyster Sauce
Ingredients commonly found in an Asian kitchen, soy sauce and oyster sauce both have a fairly good shelf life. Soy sauce can be kept indefinitely if unopened and for 2-3 years refrigerated after opening. Oyster sauce can be kept for a year past its printed date when unopened, and 6 months once it has been opened. Both can be kept in the refrigerator after opening to preserve their flavor.
Here is a handy infographic to help you keep track of how long you can store items in your fridge:
What do you have lurking in your fridge? Is it time for a spring cleaning?
Note: Individual cases will vary and these dates and information provided above are just guidelines. Consider each item uniquely and when in doubt, don’t eat it.