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The Strange Shelf-Lives of 10 Common Grocery Store Goods

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Ever wondered why some foods tend to rot as soon as you get them home while others have miraculous shelf-lives? It could have something to do with how old some foods are before you even buy them. Below, we break down some commonly purchased goods that are as fresh as possible—and a few that might be a little older than you think.

1. ORANGE JUICE

Is your orange juice actually made from fresh oranges, like many OJ companies market? Likely, no, says researcher and author Alissa Hamilton. According to Hamilton’s investigation, “not from concentrate” orange juices are stored in million-gallon tanks for up to a year before being bottled and sent to grocery stores. Orange juice is first pasteurized, has its oxygen removed and then is stored in tanks. When it’s ready for packaging, orange juice manufacturers add in "flavor packs” to boost the orange taste.

2. APPLES

If you’ve ever picked an apple from the tree and wondered why it tasted different than store-bought fruit, it could be age. Apples can be up to a year old by the time you buy them, though they’re still safe to eat. Year-round apple demand means that a short harvest season—usually from late summer to early fall—somehow has to provide a supply for the following year. To make apples last, harvesters store the fruit in low-oxygen, high-carbon dioxide coolers, sometimes applying fungicides to prevent rot, or 1-methylcyclopropene, a gas that stops apples from emitting the ethylene gas that causes them to ripen and age. Other apple producers use wax coatings to help the fruit retain moisture and appear fresh, which isn’t too unnatural since apples produce their own protective, waxy layer that is often lost during harvesting and washing.

3. EGGS

There’s a lot of debate about what kind of eggs you should buy—cage-free, free-range, organic, or whatever’s cheapest. But most eggs have age in common, and they can be up to 45 days old before they’re no longer sellable. While most egg cartons come with an expiration or “best before” date, egg processors technically don’t have to stamp their cartons so long as their eggs are graded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). If they do label eggs, there are basic rules: expiration dates can’t be any more than 30 days from when the eggs were packaged, and grocery stores can’t sell them after that date. If “best before” stamps are used, the date on the package can’t be any more than 45 days from when the eggs were carton-packed. U.S. egg regulations are different than other countries', mainly in that American eggs are washed and chemically sanitized before being refrigerated and shipped to stores. Throughout Europe, eggs aren’t washed, and producers instead use an egg’s natural protective coating to keep it safe before reaching shoppers.

4. BEEF

Grocery store beef is often a bit older when it gets to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good. Many cuts of beef are aged before they’re sent off to packaging and shoppers, and that means it can be nearly six weeks old by the time you add it to your grocery cart. Aging uses microbes and enzymes to break down some of the tissue, with the goal of naturally tenderizing meat. How it’s done depends on the beef producer; some sides of meat are simply hung in large coolers, while other meats are wrapped in plastic bags before being hung. Each way has its own effect on how meat ages. So, how do you identify good beef in the meat department? The trick is to look for red, not brown, meat. Vacuum-sealed meat often looks purple, but beef that’s been exposed to oxygen turns bright red. It’ll turn brown about five days later because of natural chemical changes, and can feel tacky or smell “off” any time after that.

5. POTATOES

The age of root vegetables like potatoes may not come as a surprise because of how long they last in dark pantries at home. After being harvested, potatoes are stored in large, temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouses where airflow systems keep 20-foot-deep potato mounds from rotting. They can stay this way for up to 11 months before heading off to be cleaned and packaged. If you’ve ever wondered where those bumps and nicks in your potatoes come from, it’s the harvesting process. As potatoes are pulled out of fields, harvesting machinery can rough them up a bit. But properly stored potatoes can heal their bruises and cuts within two weeks.

6. LETTUCE

Leafy greens like lettuce can be fresh, or a few weeks old, depending on where you live and what kind of lettuce you buy. Nearly 90 percent of lettuce sold during the winter in the U.S. comes from Yuma, Arizona, where it’s warm enough for the plants to grow. Shipping times vary based by destination, meaning lettuce could be just a few days old, or longer if refrigerated before and during transport. But, bagged lettuces and greens can be up to two weeks old from the time they’re harvested, cleaned and packaged, and shipped to stores.

7. BREAD

There’s no clear answer to how long bread can sit on grocery store shelves before it’s tossed, since every grocery store has its own standards for food loss. But there are ways to tell when your bread was baked. Bread tags are often color-coordinated to note what day of the week a loaf was baked, such as blue for Monday or green for Tuesday. This color tagging makes it easier for bread distributors and store stockers to rotate out fresh loaves without having to stop and look at each package’s date. But, that doesn’t mean you should completely rule out the old-fashioned squeeze test, because not every bakery follows the same color-coordinated tag system. As for how long your loaf will last at home, it depends on how you store it. On the counter, bread should last five to seven days [PDF], but refrigerated bread can last longer. If you come across a good bread sale, there’s no harm in freezing extra loaves, which retain peak flavor for up to three months.

8. MILK

Milk normally leaves a dairy, is pasteurized and bottled, and arrives at grocery stores within 48 hours. While that’s pretty fast for a food that expires quickly, it doesn’t mean that shoppers aren’t still conscious of “best by” dates when picking up a gallon. So if milk is relatively fresh when it arrives, how long can it stay in the grocery cooler? That depends on each state’s rules and can vary between 12 and 21 days after milk has been pasteurized. At home, using the “best by” stamp to determine freshness isn’t a hard and fast rule because refrigerator temperature, level of pasteurization, and other factors (like backwash from drinking out of the carton) affect how long milk lasts. The sure-fire way to know if milk has spoiled is the age-old sniff test.

9. CRANBERRIES

Cranberries have made a name for themselves during fall and winter celebrations. But, it’s not just the holidays that increase cranberry sales. The bog-dwelling berries are actually harvested during their popular season, and make their way to grocers soon after. When ripe, cranberry marshes are flooded and the berries are pulled from their vines by rotating machines called beaters. The berries then float to the top of the marsh and are collected. Cranberries bought in September, October, and November are usually fresh, but they will last in freezers for up to a year.

10. DELI FOODS

If you’re swinging by the grocery deli for a roasted chicken or quick meal, it’s probably nice to know that your food was likely made that day. Most grocery store delis toss leftover, prepared foods that were cooked that day. In many cases, they aren’t packaged for sale the next day or even sold to employees clocking out for the day. The grocery industry can lose millions by throwing out this food ($900 million in 2001, by one survey's estimate), but they'll pass that cost on to the consumer. That's why the sliced-while-you-wait deli meat costs more than the very similar package in the aisle. But, in terms of freshness, the deli counter is great bet.

All images courtesy of iStock 

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Eggo Came Up With 9 Perfect Recipes for Your Stranger Things Viewing Party
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As the return of Stranger Things draws near, you can expect to see fans break out their blonde wigs, hang up their Christmas lights, and play the Netflix show’s theme song on repeat. But Eggo knows the best way to celebrate the season two premiere on October 27 is with a menu featuring Eleven’s favorite snack. As Mashable reports, the brand has joined forces with Netflix to release a menu of gourmet waffle recipes to serve at your Stranger Things viewing party.

The lineup includes nine creative takes on Eggo waffles, each one named after an episode from the new season. The menu kicks off with “MADMAX,” a spin on chicken and waffles served with maple syrup and Sriracha. As the season progresses, pairings alternate between sweet (like “Will the Wise,” featuring ice cream and hot fudge) and savory (like “Trick or Treat, Freak,” a waffle version of a BLT). Check out the full menu below with directions from the experts at Eggo.

EPISODE 1: "MADMAX"

Eggo recipe.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha
1 deli hot chicken tender

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

3. Place warm chicken tender on top of waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 2: "TRICK OR TREAT, FREAK"

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiched between two waffles

4 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
2 lettuce leaves
4 thin tomato slices
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
8 slices turkey bacon, crisp-cooked and drained
3 tablespoons blue cheese salad dressing

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

2. Top two of the waffles with lettuce and tomato slices. Sprinkle with pepper. Top with bacon. Drizzle with salad dressing. Add remaining waffles. Cut each into halves. Serve immediately.

EPISODE 3: "THE POLLYWOG"

Eggo recipe.

1 1/2 cups vanilla ice cream, divided
3/4 cup strawberry ice cream
3 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles or Kellogg’s Eggo Chocolatey Chip waffles
1 Banana, sliced
3 Strawberries, sliced
2 cups frozen reduced-fat, non-dairy whipped dessert topping, thawed
Assorted small candies (optional)
Gold-colored decorator’s sugar or edible glitter (optional)

1. Place vanilla and strawberry ice cream in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes until slightly softened.

2. Meanwhile, on large piece of parchment paper or wax paper, trace 4 1/2-inch circles. Place paper on baking sheet. Working quickly, spoon 3/4 cup of the vanilla ice cream onto one circle. Flatten into a 1/2-inch-thick, 4 1/2-inch-diameter disk. Repeat with remaining vanilla ice cream and strawberry ice cream, making disks. Lightly cover with wax paper and freeze at least two hours or until firm.

3. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions. Cool. Leave one waffle whole. Cut remaining waffles into quarters.

4. Remove paper from ice cream disks. Top with one of the vanilla ice cream disks and four waffle quarters, leaving a small space between pieces. Top with vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces (always arrange waffle quarters so they align with waffle quarters on lower layers). Add the remaining vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces. Top with strawberry ice cream disk and the remaining four waffle quarters. Wrap in plastic wrap. Gently press down on the stack. Freeze at least 3 hours or until firm.

5. Remove waffle stack from freezer. Remove plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Mound with whipped topping. Decorate with candies and gold sugar (if desired).

6. To serve, cut into four pieces, cutting between waffle quarters.

TIP: To easily form ice cream disks, place a 4 1/2-inch round cookie cutter on parchment or wax paper on baking sheet. Place ice cream inside of cookie cutter and smooth into solid disk. Remove cookie cutter and repeat for remaining ice cream disks. Freeze as directed above.

EPISODE 4: "WILL THE WISE"

Eggo waffle.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon hot fudge ice cream topping
1/3 cup vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon caramel ice cream topping
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon dry roasted peanuts

1. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Heat fudge ice cream topping according to package directions.

2. Scoop ice cream onto center of waffle.

3. Drizzle with fudge and caramel toppings. Add whipped cream. Sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 5: "DIG DUG"

Eggo waffle.

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
3 tablespoons orange-colored decorator’s sugar
6 oblong chewy fruit-flavored green candies or 2 small green gumdrops, cut into 6 pieces

1. In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, pumpkin, powdered sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or until firm enough to shape.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

3. Place orange-colored sugar in a small bowl. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, shape about 2 tablespoons of cream cheese mixture into pumpkin shape. Roll in orange sugar. Place on one waffle. Repeat with remaining cream cheese mixture, sugar and waffles.

4. Press green candy into each cream cheese ball for pumpkin stem. Serve with spreaders or knives to spread cream cheese mixture over waffles.

EPISODE 6: "THE SPY"

Eggo waffles.

3 frozen fully-cooked sausage links
2 tablespoons green bell pepper
2 tablespoons water
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha

1. In a small nonstick skillet, cook sausage links, bell pepper, and water, covered, over medium heat for five minutes. Remove pepper from skillet. Set aside. Continue cooking sausage, uncovered, about two minutes more or until browned, turning frequently.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

4. Arrange sausage pieces and pepper pieces on waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 7"

Eggo waffle.

6 cups canned pineapple slices, drained
1 tablespoon flaked coconut, toasted
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon macadamia nuts, chopped

1. Cut pineapple slices into four pieces.

2. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Place on serving plate. Top with coconut, pineapple slices, whipped cream, and macadamia nuts. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 8"

Eggo waffle.

6 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
1 tablespoon butter
3 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
6 thin slices Monterey Jack cheese or cheddar cheese (3 oz. total)
Ketchup or salsa (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper with a fork until well combined. Set aside.

2. Place frozen waffles in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for five minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet. Pour in egg mixture. Cook, over medium heat, until mixture begins to set on bottom and around edges. With spatula, lift and fold partially cooked eggs, allowing uncooked portions to flow underneath. Continue cooking and folding for two to three minutes or until egg mixture is cooked through.

4. Top waffles with egg mixture, crumbled bacon, and cheese slices. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F about one minute more or until cheese melts. Serve with ketchup or salsa (if desired).

"EPISODE 9"

Eggo waffle.

6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
6 slices mozzarella cheese or provolone cheese (6 oz. total)
24 slices pepperoni (about 2 oz. total)
1/3 cup pizza sauce

1. Place Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle waffles in single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 450°F for three minutes. Turn waffles over. Bake at 450°F for two minutes more.

2. Cut waffles into quarters. Return to baking sheet.

3. Cut cheese slices into pieces to fit on waffle quarters.

4. Top waffle quarters with cheese pieces, pepperoni slices and pizza sauce. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for three to four minutes or until cheese melts. Serve warm.

Making the full nine-course menu might take a lot of work, but then again, it’s probably healthy to plan some cooking projects to break up your binge-watching session. Once you're done burning through all those waffles (and episodes), Eggo has a few suggestions for what to do with the empty box. Accessories like an Eggo flashlight or a bloody tissue box sound like the perfect way to make your Stranger Things costume stand out at this year’s Halloween party.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

[h/t Mashable]

All images courtesy of Eggo.

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The Little-Known History of Fruit Roll-Ups
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David Kessler, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The thin sheets of “fruit treats” known as Fruit Roll-Ups have been a staple of supermarkets since 1983, when General Mills introduced the snack to satisfy the sweet tooth of kids everywhere. But as Thrillist writer Gabriella Gershenson recently discovered, the Fruit Roll-Up has an origin that goes much further back—all the way to the turn of the 20th century.

The small community of Syrian immigrants in New York City in the early 1900s didn’t have the packaging or marketing power of General Mills, but they had the novel idea of offering an apricot-sourced “fruit leather” they called amardeen. A grocery proprietor named George Shalhoub would import an apricot paste from Syria that came in massive sheets. At the request of customers, employees would snip off a slice and offer the floppy treat that was named after cowhide because it was so hard to chew.

Although Shalhoub’s business relocated to Brooklyn in the 1940s, the embryonic fruit sheet continued to thrive. George’s grandson, Louis, decided to sell crushed, dried apricots in individually packaged servings. The business later became known as Joray, which sold the first commercial fruit roll-up in 1960. When a trade publication detailed the family’s process in the early 1970s, it opened the floodgates for other companies to begin making the distinctive treat. Sunkist was an early player, but when General Mills put their considerable advertising power behind their Fruit Roll-Ups, they became synonymous with the sticky snack.

Joray is still in business, offering kosher roll-ups that rely more heavily on fruit than the more processed commercial version. But the companies have one important thing in common: They both have the sense not to refer to their product as “fruit leather.”

[h/t Thrillist]

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