Is it Safe to Eat? Shelf Life of Donated Food

Some of the food that will be recovered through CFR will be past the date on the package.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as long as foods are not open and are properly stored, it is safe to eat food after the “best by”, “sell-by” or “use-by” date.

Here is a list of common foods and the amount of time past the date on package that they can be safely consumed:

Fresh/frozen foods                                                    

  • Prepared Tuna Fish, Chicken, Pasta Salad, etc. – 3 to 5 days
  • Fresh, uncooked meat – 2 to 5 days
  • Milk – 5 to 7 days
  • Yogurt – 7 to 10 days
  • Deli Meat and Bacon – 2 weeks
  • Eggs – 3 to 5 weeks
  • Frozen meat – 4 to 8 months from the date it was frozen
  • Frozen dinners – 3 to 4 months

Dry goods

  • Baking Mixes – 8 months
  • Dry Beans and Nuts – 1 year
  • Cereal and Crackers – 1 to 2 years
  • Uncooked Rice/Pasta – 1 to 2 years
  • Canned High-Acid Foods (peaches, tomatoes, juice, etc.) – 12-18 months
  • Canned Low-Acid Foods (meat and vegetables) – 2 to 3 years
  • Food in Glass/Plastic Jars – 1-2 years

For information about additional foods you can consult the following resources:

Food dating guidelines can be confusing and it is important that the end consumer be provided with clear information regarding the safety of the foods provided by your agency.  Consider creating easy to read food safety information regarding shelf-life for your service recipients, such as the example below:

Food manufacturers use different dating systems to ensure that a product is received at peak quality. Once a product is past the date on package, many manufacturers donate the item. Some of the food you receive from CFR members may be past the “use-by” or “sell-by” date.  It is still safe to eat.  

CFR follows national safety standards. Although we carefully check food before it is given to you, if you think any food is spoiled – rotten, or bad – please don’t eat it.  Throw it away.

When you get home, please follow these food storage guidelines to keep food safe until you eat it:

Proper Food Storage

  • Cold and frozen food needs to be put in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible so that it doesn’t spoil or defrost. You should go straight home after you pick up your food.       If it is hot outside you can wrap your food in blankets or towels to help keep it cold until you get home.      
  • When you get home, items such as: milk, yogurt, juice, prepared foods, eggs and cheese go in the refrigerator. Items such as frozen dinners, ice cream and frozen vegetables go in the freezer.
  • Bread you will not eat within 2 days can be tightly wrapped and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • FRESH meat, fish or poultry should be cooked or frozen on the day you receive it.
  • FROZEN meats can be kept frozen for up to 4 months prior to thawing and cooking.




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