Foods That Need Special Care

Bacteria grows best in low-acid foods (meat, fish, poultry, milk, eggs, and cooked vegetables).  Acid foods (fruits, tomatoes, and pickles) seldom cause food poisoning.

Foods handled a great deal during chopping, slicing, or deboning are likely to become contaminated.  The combination of low acidity and much handling makes some foods more suspect than others.  Potato salad, chicken pies, and stuffing are prime examples.

To be on the safe side

  • Stuff poultry just before roasting.
  • Separate leftover meat, poultry, stuffing, and gravy.  Refrigerate each immediately.
  • Use cracked eggs only in recipes in which they will be thoroughly cooked (hard-cooked or baked, not in meringue).

Geographic area will affect recommended storage time.  Warm and humid climates shorten the shelf life of foods.

(Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service - Consumer and Family Sciences - Department of Foods and Nutrition)

Selection Guidelines

To help assure quality, some products have "open dates" on the package.  Product dating is optional on most products.  Dates may also be "coded" by the manufacturer and only understood by them.  The most commonly used open dates are:

  • Sell-by Date - This is the last recommended day of sale.  The date allows for home storage and use.  You will find the date after the statement "sell by (a date)".  Breads and baked goods may have "sell-by" dates.
  • Use-by Date - Tells how long the product will retain top quality after you buy it.  You will find this date after statement "Use by".  Some packaged goods have "use-by" dates.
  • Expiration Date - This is the last day the product should be used or eaten.  You may find this date after the statement, "Do not use after (date)".  Yeast and baking powder have expiration dates.
  • Pack Date - Canned or packaged foods may have pack dates, which tell you when the product was processed.  This does not tell you how long the food will be good.

These are guidelines;  if a food is not properly handled, its storage life will be shortened.

(Source: P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Information Specialist; E.H. Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University)