Many of us inspect the “sell by” date stickers when buying fresh meat so we’ll know how much time we have before we have to cook it off. But is this really the best way to go about it? And if not, what other technique should we use?
In this guide, we’ll talk about how long pork is good for after its sell by date—or whether it’s still good at all.
How Long Is Pork Good After Sell By Date?
You should be able to safely consume fresh pork for 1 to 2 days after its sell by date. Some pork products might even remain at their peak for 3 to 5 days following this date. The record isn’t necessarily an indicator of freshness—it’s there to tell the retailers how long the pork should remain on the shelf.
What’s The Difference Between The “Sell By” And “Use By” Dates?
“Sell By” isn’t the only label you’re bound to come across when shopping. “Best By,” sometimes extended to “Best If Used By,” is another common one. “Freeze By” and “Use By” will sometimes crop up as well.
What’s the difference between all these labels, and what do they mean?
Interestingly enough, this type of product dating isn’t required by the federal government, except in reference to infant formula. Manufacturers and retailers provide this information voluntarily to help ensure quality.
Let’s break a few of the common phrases down to illustrate their differences.
- Best By/Best If Used By: Indicates that the product will taste better and have superior texture if consumed by this date. Does not indicate food safety.
- Sell By: Lets the store employees know how long the product should be displayed. This number is used for inventory management, and does not indicate safety.
- Use By: Indicates the last date that the product will be at peak quality, according to the distributors. Does not indicate food safety.
- Freeze By: Indicates that the product should be frozen on or before this date to ensure peak quality. Does not indicate food safety.
By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern with all these dates: None of them are a guarantee of food safety. They’re in place to indicate when you should cook and consume the product for prime results.
Of course, all fresh meat will spoil eventually, so it’s best to enjoy it as soon as possible after you buy it. However, just because a package of raw pork has gone past its sell by date doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unfit for consumption.
Defining Food Product Dating
There are two types of food product dating: open and closed.
Open dating is a system used by the retailer or manufacturer. It involves putting a calendar date on a specific product, estimating how long it will remain in prime condition. This helps the retailer determine how long they can keep the product on the shelf.
Closed dating, on the other hand, is used solely by the manufacturers. The closed date code may consist of letters as well as numbers, and indicates the time and date of production.
Retailers typically use the open dating system for dairy, eggs, meat, and poultry. Meanwhile, closed dates are more likely to be found on canned or boxed products, like fruit and cereal.
How Long Is Pork Good After Sell By Date?
For optimum results, you should freeze or cook most raw pork products within 3 to 4 days. All ground meat should be either frozen or cooked off within 2 days.
It’s difficult to say for sure how long the pork might last after the “sell by” date. As we pointed out, these dates are put in place at the retailer’s discretion, and therefore aren’t a reliable barometer for safety.
That said, pork will typically remain fresh for 1 to 2 days past the sell by date. Depending on the circumstances, it might even be good 5 days later.
As a general rule, pork roasts—including tenderloin, picnic shoulder, loin roasts, and Boston butt—should stay fresh longer than ground pork. Chops and blade steaks will probably survive the 3-to-5 day window as well. Raw ground pork, including fresh sausage, should be cooked within 1 to 2 days of the sell-by date.
If the pork starts to display any of the warning signs outlined in How Can You Tell When Pork Has Gone Bad?, below, discard it at once.
Factors That May Affect Freshness
Although you should be able to safely consume pork that’s gone past its sell by date, there are certain things you should and shouldn’t do.
First of all, make sure to store all raw meat products below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When you leave raw meat out at room temperature for too long, you create a breeding ground for bacteria.
Try to keep the meat in the coldest portion of the fridge. The rear section of the bottom shelf is a good bet. Avoid putting raw meat products on the door, as this will raise their temperature slightly every time you open the fridge.
Finally, keep the pork tightly wrapped for as long as possible. If too much air is allowed to circulate around the meat, it will spoil more quickly.
How Long Can You Freeze Pork?
When you’ve gone a day or two past the sell by date and still haven’t had a chance to cook the meat, it’s best to put it in the freezer. Pork can be stored at temps below 0 degrees indefinitely, but a maximum storage period of 6 months is preferable.
Again, be sure to wrap the pork tightly before putting it in the freezer. Even if it’s still in its store packaging, label it with today’s date so you’ll know how long the meat has been in there.
Once the pork is fully thawed, cook it off within 2 days. That’s the general rule when the meat was thawed in the refrigerator. If you’ve thawed it using the cold-water method or the microwave, you’ll need to cook it as soon as it thaws.
How Can You Tell When Pork Has Gone Bad?
If you’re unsure whether your pork is still fresh, give it a good sniff. When it’s fresh, raw pork doesn’t have a strong odor. At most, you may catch a faint metallic odor, or a hint of fresh lard. If it smells sweet or sour, or like rotten eggs, it’s past its peak.
The meat should also be moist and slightly springy to the touch. Pork that’s slimy, sticky, or gummy should be discarded. On the other hand, you don’t want it to be overly dry, either.
Check the color of the meat as well. The pork should be light to dark pink, with creamy white fat. Pork that’s turned dull gray or yellow has likely spoiled and should be thrown out. Also, keep an eye out for any green or white patches, which would indicate mold.
The Bottom Line
Food product dating is at the discretion of the retailers and manufacturers, and isn’t required at the federal level. That can make it difficult to pin down the exact point at which the meat begins to spoil.
The best way to tell whether pork is still good is to inspect the meat before you start to cook. If the odor, texture, or color are off, then it’s probably past its prime. Use your best judgment, and don’t rely on dates alone.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!