We had a question on the interpretation of USDA rules, What does the USDA mean when it says cooked (meat) is good for a range of days?. It got closed with three user votes as a duplicate on the canonical question How long can I store a food in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer?.

I think the closure may have been a misunderstanding. In the closed question, the OP is not asking "What is the shelf life of cooked meat", which is covered in the duplicate.

The question addresses an entirely different point, which is how to interpret safety rules (including the ones reproduced in the duplicate target). Food authorities represent "safe" as a binary category - everything that can be proven to fulfill all conditions is safe, anything without proof is not safe. And consumers want to use these rules as a guide for action. There are people who prefer to only consume food that is safe, and throw away unsafe food.

This interpretation would require very exact cutoffs for "safe" - but the ones that actually get published frequently include a time range, and it is unclear how to interpret that. If a food is good for "3-4 days", is does a food on the fourth day of storage fall on the fictious "safe" or on the fictious "unsafe" side of the division? What does the USDA expect people to do with this food if they have had it for four days in the fridge?

This is a question which is not answered in our canonical "how long can I store" question, and to my knowledge, nowhere else on our site. So I think that it should be reopened - and hopefully answered with evidence that the answer correctly reflects the USDA's own stance.

  • I agree that this should be reopened. There is a vast difference between an unopened box of crackers and previously cooked meats under refrigeration. Perhaps we should be able to address each storage location individually. The answers are all going to depend on exactly what product you are referring to, and the type of storage utilized. Not that my opinion matters.... just tossing my 2 cents in.
    – elbrant
    Mar 2, 2023 at 22:14


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