Nothing is sadder than having to throw out food. Not only is it incredibly wasteful, but groceries are expensive, and it’s painful to watch your hard-earned money go down the drain. Knowing how quickly food goes bad is helpful, because it can help you do your groceries and plan your meals in a way that minimizes the amount of food that goes to waste. It’s also important, because expired food can act as a breeding ground for potentially dangerous bacteria – something you obviously want to avoid eating. So that you don’t have to do all the research yourself, we’ve put together a list of the top ten foods that expire the fastest. And some of them might surprise you.
10. Tomato Sauce
To kick off this list, we have a food item that lots of people believe lasts way longer than it actually does. The “best by” date on a jar of tomato sauce might trick you into thinking that this incredibly versatile product is the last thing in your fridge you have to worry about expiring. Unfortunately, that date loses all meaning once the jar is opened. Sure, you can store tomato sauce in your pantry for ages without it going bad, but once it’s opened you should try have it finished within five days. If not, it’s recommended that you toss it. The last thing you want is to ruin a perfectly good batch of pasta by topping it with spoiled tomato sauce. What a tragedy that would be. So, always take note of how long it’s been since you opened the jar. While you might be surprised to hear how quickly tomato sauce expired, this isn’t necessarily bad news. Just think of it as an excuse to eat excessive quantities of pasta over a very short period of time. You get extra spaghetti, and no tomato sauce goes to waste. Sounds like a win-win situation if you ask us.
Considering just how trendy hummus has become, it’s important to recognize how long its shelf-life really is. We’ll give you a hint: this one’s a bit of a shocker. Exactly how long it lasts will depend on whether or not it contains preservatives. If it does, you’re safe to keep it for up to a week. However, it turns out that, even if it’s stored in a sealed container and kept refrigerated, preservative-free hummus is only good for three to four days. Luckily, people are so obsessed with hummus that the container is usually emptied long before then. It’s important to keep in mind that hummus isn’t just another condiment that’ll stay fresh for weeks on end. The good thing about hummus is that it’s quite easy to check if it’s okay to eat. If you notice mold, an off-putting smell, or find that the texture looks completely different from how it did when you first opened the container, you should get rid of it, regardless of how long it’s been since you opened it. But that’s a good rule of thumb to follow with pretty much any food.
Anyone who likes bananas can confirm how frustrating it is when bananas go from un-ripe to over-ripe overnight. This fruit is notorious for ripening quickly, and things are made even more complicated when you factor in that everyone has different preferences in terms of ripeness. Some people like a green banana, others prefer yellow, and some people like the peel to have a hint of brown on it (we like to call those people “wrong”). All that to say, people are very aware of how quickly bananas go bad. But what many people don’t realize is that just one over-ripe banana can wreak havoc on all of your fresh produce. When they ripen, bananas let off ethylene gas, which causes nearby fruits and veggies to ripen much more quickly than they would’ve if left to their own devices. Knowing to keep your bananas separate from the rest of your produce is a handy tip that can save you an extra trip to the supermarket. While bananas tend to get over-ripe in two to five days (depending on what you consider an over-ripe banana to be), that doesn’t mean that they’re not safe to eat. If you’re left with brown bananas, channel your inner Martha Stewart and get to baking! Over-ripe bananas call for banana bread.
Just like any other fresh produce, a fresh head of broccoli needs to be eaten relatively quickly. Still, if kept refrigerated, it can remain edible for seven to ten days. Not too shabby. But the thing is, while it still might be safe to eat at the one-week mark, it won’t be as nutritious as it was when you first bought it. As time goes by, the nutrients in broccoli actually start to break down. This is especially true of its Vitamin C content. So, even though your broccoli might look fine, if it’s been sitting in your fridge for a while, you won’t be reaping all the benefits that are supposed to come from eating your greens. Also, take note of the fact that you shouldn’t store your fruits and vegetables side-by-side. As mentioned earlier, some fruit, like bananas, emit ethylene gas, which can speed up the ripening of adjacent produce. It turns out that some vegetables are especially sensitive to this gas, one of them being broccoli. Buying a bag of frozen broccoli is a great way to avoid any going to waste, especially for people who cook just for themselves.
6. Packaged Greens
Kale, iceberg, or Romaine, whatever your green of choice is, if it’s packaged in a plastic bag or box, well, it’s here for a good time, not a long time. While in most cases, food is fine to eat well past the expiration date on the package, this is an exception. It’s best to eat your packaged greens as early as possible and to throw out any leftovers a few days before that “best by” date comes around. Part of the problem is the packaging itself; it doesn’t really allow for circulation. Have you ever opened a package of spinach or lettuce and found the greens covered in some sort of horrible brown slime? You have lack of air circulation to thank for that. For leafy greens like kale, it’s recommended that you wrap them in a paper towel, then a plastic bag and store them in your refrigerator’s produce drawer. This is supposed to prevent them from wilting quickly. But, of course, all food goes bad eventually, and the best strategy is always to eat your fresh produce as quickly as possible. If you can, make several small trips to the grocery store during the week, instead of making one big purchase at a time. This is super helpful in reducing waste.
Because wine is made of fermented grapes, it doesn’t seem logical that it can go bad. However, it definitely can. When the cork is popped, oxygen immediately starts breaking down the compounds in the wine. After a couple of days, the taste starts to go, and within a week, it’s past the point of no return. Like many other foods, it’s pretty obvious when wine goes bad. Spoiled wine has been described as tasting like sauerkraut and smelling like “barnyard” and vinegar. From that description, rotten wine is definitely something you want to avoid at all costs. So, what we’re saying here is, it would be wasteful to not finish the bottle within a few days of opening it. Wine goes great with pasta, so you can finish off your wine at the same time as you empty out those jars of tomato sauce! Good food and no waste? Sounds like the recipe for a perfect evening (or afternoon, we’re not judging).
Usually, your nose is a good indicator of whether or not a food has gone bad. However, this is one case where something smelling fishy isn’t a deal-breaker. Sorry, couldn’t resist the joke. It’s pretty common knowledge that fish goes bad at alarming speeds, even if it’s kept in the refrigerator. A piece of fresh fish shouldn’t be left in the fridge for more than two days. This means that you should have a game plan in mind when you buy it. Know how and when you want to cook it and have all the other necessary ingredients on hand. You don’t want to mess around with fish – when it goes bad, it’s really not safe to eat. What this all comes down to is that, in the kitchen, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So, when in doubt, throw it out! Storing fish in your freezer is a great way to keep it fresh for longer. But, keep in mind, that the rules still apply here. If you’ve had a piece of fish in the fridge for two days or longer, it’s too late to freeze it. You’ll have to take the loss and get rid of it.
3. Fresh Berries
Nothing says summer like fresh berries. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, whether you love them all or prefer one kind over the others, berries can satisfy a sweet tooth, while also being a nutritious snack. It’s a good thing that they’re so good; this means that they’re usually eaten quickly, and you don’t have to worry about them going bad. However, if you were to leave a container of berries out on your counter and they somehow managed to remain uneaten for a couple of days, you’d quickly notice them getting soggy, discolored, and even moldy. This process is sped up when the berries are piled on top of one another, which is usually how they’re stored. If you can get them into a single layer quickly, and store them in the fridge, you’ll be able to keep them fresh for a little while longer. The good news is that, like with bananas, berries that are too ripe to eat on their own don’t need to go to waste! There are so many different things you can do with them. Throw them in a smoothie, whip up some muffins, bake a pie, even try your hand at making homemade ice cream! The opportunities are endless. However, there’s a line between over-ripe and rotten. As soon as you notice mold, get rid of the lot. Mold spreads quickly from one berry to another and can even grow beneath the skin. Once one berry’s moldy, they’ve all got to go.
2. Deli Meat
Maybe it’s something about the plastic packaging that has us thinking that deli meat lasts way longer than it actually does. Whatever the reason for this misconception, it’s time to set the record straight. It’s recommended that you clean out a package of sliced meat within three to five days of buying it. So, that means that the package of sliced ham you picked up on your weekend grocery haul shouldn’t be used to prepare a sandwich for your Friday lunch. This is another case where you don’t want to cut it too close to the “best before” date. Yes, those dates are usually considered guidelines, but, when it comes to meat, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If you still have leftover deli meat a few days before that “best before” date comes around, you should be safe and toss it. Harmful bacteria can grow on meat, and that’s not something you want to risk consuming. You can keep your deli meat good longer by storing it in the coldest part of your fridge, whether that’s all the way in the back, or tucked into a meat drawer. The chilly temperatures will help keep bacteria at bay. If you notice that your sliced meat seems particularly slimy, smells of vinegar or ammonia, or if you notice any mold, you definitely don’t want to be eating it. Of course, that’s pretty much a no-brainer.
Ah, the bane of any Millennial’s existence. The avocado. A delicious food, that is a fantastic addition to any salad or sandwich, known for its million health benefits, the avocado doesn’t come cheap. It adds insult to injury when, after coughing up far more money than it’s worth, your avocado turns to mush seemingly overnight. Not. A. Vibe. If you keep them on your kitchen counter, you’ll be lucky if your most recently bought avocados last four days. In the fridge, you might be able to stretch it to a week. However, it depends, in part, on how ripe the avocados were when you bought them. At the grocery store, the avocados for sale will all be at varying stages of ripeness. When selecting which you want to purchase, consider when you plan on eating them. There’s a very small timeframe when avocados are good to eat but do your best to judge. It’s hard to tell exactly how ripe an avocado is without cutting it open, but it can be done to an extent. You know an avocado is good to be eaten when it’s dark green and firm, but not hard, to touch. If its color is getting closer to a black, or dark brown, and it’s soft to touch, you got there too late.