Now that we buy most of our foods and beverages in boxes, packets, cans, bottles or bags, it’s important to know how to ensure you’re eating or drinking the safest, best possible version available. But with confusing product labels and their wide range of labeling standards, we often tend to simply rely on the expiration date indicating how fresh an item is, and how fit it is for consumption. Should you always follow these numbers? The answer is a resounding NO.

Looking for a healthier, more economical and common sense approach to feeding yourself and your family? While fruit and vegetables are easy to check for freshness, it’s a bit tougher when it comes to dairy, meat, eggs, cheese and canned goods.

We tell you how to go about deciding whether to consume or discard something, instead of blindly following ‘sell-by’ dates:

1. Meat & Poultry: While items like steak, veal, pork and lamb can be kept for up to three to five days in the refrigerator after purchase, ground beef keeps for one to two days. Never leave raw meat outside the refrigerator, and avoid letting it sit in your car while you run errands.
Best Tip: Freeze it below 40 degrees, and most meat products will last anywhere from four months to a year except for bacon and sausage, which will last for one to two months. Do not eat meat that smells like vinegar or ammonia, or is slimy and faded. To defrost meat or poultry, do so in the refrigerator.

2. Fish & Shellfish: Most fish items last in the refrigerator for one to two days after purchase, and in the freezer for three to eight months. Shellfish can be refrigerated for one to two days, and frozen for three to 12 months.
Best Tip: Sniff that salmon or tuna before cooking it. Throw it out if it has a strong fishy odor, is discolored or mushy.

3. Milk: If you refrigerate pasteurized milk immediately after purchase, it may last three to seven days, but can go sour fast if left outside.
Best Tip: Always smell it before using, and if it smells bad, don’t hesitate to discard it.

4. Cheese: While harder varieties such as Swiss, cheddar or blue are good for up to six months after their sell-by dates, you shouldn’t eat soft cheeses or cream cheese that’s more than two weeks old.
Best Tip: If you do happen to find some mold on your hard cheese, just scrape away the mold and feel free to eat the rest. Always wrap cheese in wax paper when storing in the refrigerator, since it tends to absorb other food odors easily.

5. Eggs: They should be stored in the refrigerator for not more than three to five weeks after purchase. Hard-boiled eggs that are cooled before storing in the refrigerator last up to a week.
Best Tip: Store them in the carton to reduce moisture leakage from the porous shells. If you find a cracked egg on purchase, discard immediately. But if you crack one in the process of transferring it from the grocery bag to the refrigerator, store it in a container and use it in a baked recipe within a couple of days.

6. Cans & Jars: While these babies can keep for up to five years at room temperature, and are often your safest food bet, foods with a high acid content, such as tomatoes and pineapple should be used within a year to 18 months of the pack date.
Best Tip: Avoid storing your canned and jarred food items next to a heat source like your oven or even the refrigerator. Do not use cans that are sharply dented or bulging outward.

With these tips, you can avoid food poisoning, and eat healthier at home.

Head to our Food section for healthy recipes and the latest food trends.
Quick and easy Nutrition tips here.

Read More:
Bread Goes Stale Faster In The Refrigerator
3 Foods To Help Remove Fridge Odors, Naturally

Simona is a journalist who has worked with several leading publications in India over the last 17 years, writing on lifestyle topics and the arts, besides interviewing celebrities. She made the switch to public relations and headed the division as PR Manager at ITC Hotels’ flagship property, the ITC Grand Chola, but has since returned to her first love, journalism. Now she writes on food, which she is sincerely passionate about and wellness, which she finds fascinating and full of surprises. When she isn’t writing, she is busy playing the role of co-founder and communications director of The Bicycle Project, a six-year-old charity initiative that empowers tribal children in rural areas, while addressing the issue of urban waste.