March 24, 2013 at 10:01 AM ET
If you get to the point where you're wondering if a food's still good, it's probably not, says Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate at Penn State University. Still, you may have some wiggle room. Here's when to eat--and when to toss--10 popular foods.
1. Frozen Chicken: Bought a ton of chicken on sale? Store it in a freezer bag and keep it in a single layer so it gets rock-hard quickly. Make sure to squeeze out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn, and use it all within a month or two. You can technically keep chicken in your freezer for up to 6 months, but the longer it's frozen, the more its taste and texture degrades.
2. Raw Chicken: It generally keeps 1 to 2 days in the fridge, but follow the expiration date listed on the package (and don't push it). If you know you won't eat it in that time, freeze it.
3. Deli Meat: Buy only what you need, because you only have about 3 days to eat it. You can keep deli meat for up to a week, but that's the absolute max--some meats may start to get slimy from growing bacteria at that time. You're a little better off with dried or cured meats like salami, because of preservatives.
4. Leftovers: A week is still safe, though at that time, ingredients may start to separate. (Taste and quality decline with each passing day.) Ideally, you want to eat them within 2 to 4 days. And make sure your fridge is set 35 to 36 degrees, since warmer temps encourage spoilage.
5. Frozen Bread/Bagels: You can store them for a few months in the freezer, but here's the thing: Bread may dry out and accumulate freezer odors in about 2 to 3 weeks, which will sacrifice taste. So eat within weeks, not months.
6. Coffee: Grounds pick up moisture easily, making them a magnet for sucking up odors and flavors of other foods, whether stored in the fridge or freezer. For that reason, buy a week or two's supply of coffee (versus a whole giant can) at a time and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Whole beans last 1 to 3 weeks in your pantry.
7. Chicken or Beef Broth: That recipe called for a half-cup of broth, so now you're stuck with the rest. If the broth was canned, pour it into another container, refrigerate, and use it up in a few days.
8. Eggs: You've got some wiggle room after the sell-by date by about 2 to 3 weeks. Five weeks is your max. The sell-by date is actually a guide for sellers for how long to keep the eggs on shelves, which is why eaters can ignore it. Store them in the container in the coldest part of the fridge--not the door where they're subject to temperature fluctuations.
9. Canned Tomatoes: It's best to use the entire can all at once. That said, canned tomatoes can stick around in your fridge for a few days. Just don't store them in the can after opening them--transfer them to another airtight container.
10. Snack Foods (Chips, Cookies): Fats in these foods begin to oxidize after opening the package, which means their flavor and texture start to go south. When they hit their expiration date--or a month after opening (whichever comes first)--throw the bag away. As long as they're not moldy, stale Oreos and Cheetos don't pose a health risk, but they certainly won't taste good.
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