Toss It or Serve It? Handling expiration dates

Feb 9, 2023 by Alene Keenan

Food and wine expiration dates indicate different things, but consumption safety is not always one of them.

On many yachts, stews will inherit an assortment of bottles, jars, and cans of food in cupboards and refrigerators.  It’s important to understand date labels on foods and to know what to toss and what to keep. 

Date labels are not as strict as you may think. “Best by,” “Sell by,” and “Use by,” date markings have different definitions.  For many foods, those dates are a rough suggestion. Infant formula carries the only federally regulated food date label. All other food dating is voluntary and assumes that storage conditions may not be ideal in grocery stores and homes. 

The “Best by” date refers to the period the product will be at the best flavor or quality. The food is edible after this date but may not taste as good. 

The “Sell by” date is provided by the producers to let sellers know when to remove items from the shelves. It is to ensure that customers get the item at its optimal quality. Depending on the item, food will last for several days to several weeks past the date if stored properly. 

The “Use by” date is the last day the producer guarantees the best quality of a product. It is not a safety date or mandatory label, except in the case of infant formula. 

As for the opened refrigerated condiments and salad dressings found on most boats, here are some rough guidelines. Of course, visually inspect all items and check for unusual odors. Going forward, label containers with the date they are opened. 

When should opened products be tossed?

  • Tomato products like ketchup, chili sauce, and cocktail sauces: after 6 months
  • Chutney: 1–2 months
  • Salad dressings: 2 months
  • Barbecue sauce: 4 months 
  • Hot sauces: 2 years in the fridge, 6 months in the pantry
  • Hummus: 7 days
  • Jellies and jams: 6–12 months
  • Horseradish: 3–4 months
  • Spaghetti sauce: 4 days
  • Mayonnaise: 3–6 months
  • Mustard: 1–2 years
  • Salsa: 1 month
  • Maple syrup: 12 months
  • Honey does not expire, but it is best within 2 years.


  • Red wine: 3-5 days after opening
  • White and rose wine: 5-7 days
  • Full-bodied white wines: 3-5 days
  • Sparkling and canned: 1-3 days
  • Fortified and boxed: 28 days

Alene Keenan is a veteran Chief Stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and the author of several guidebooks for crew. 


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

View all posts by Alene Keenan →