For example, it says cooked beef is good for 3-4 days. Does this mean that some cooked beef will not be good after 3 days? Should extra precautions be taken if eating food between 3 and 4 days? If there is some risk after day 3, would it not be better to dispose of food at the beginning of the range?

Or, if I am incorrect, how should I interpret '3-4' days?

  • @bob1 and other close voters: I don't think this is a duplicate. The question is about the supposed binary meaning of "safe" in USDA rules. They imply that, with food good for "3-4 days" if you want to live by these rules, before day 3 you can eat the food, and after day 4, you should throw it out. But I have never seen the USDA spell out what they expect you to do on day 3 and 4.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:39
  • As this question got closed with three user votes, and I suspect the users closing might not have noticed the exact point of the question (the title does sound awfully close to the annoying "how long does it last" questions we close routinely!), I opened a Meta discussion on a possible reopening. Please write your arguments for and against it under cooking.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3794/….
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


The problem is that there are a lot of variables that go into the calculation:

  • How good was your hygiene when handling the food? (After cooking, packaging, etc)
  • Was the meat left out at room temperature or cooked and then immediately packed and cooled?
  • Did you cook it thoroughly to pasteurize it?
  • How well is your fridge maintaining its temperature?
  • Is anyone that would be consuming it have a weakened immune system or have pre-existing GI issues?
  • Will the food be immediately reheated and consumed or spend more time at room temperature?

Many people can probably get away with eating food that’s been in the fridge that’s past the recommendations… but restaurants have other considerations as they don’t know who the food might be served to or exactly how it will be used in the future.

If you’re practicing good hygiene habits, and your fridge is known to be working properly, you should be fine at 4 days. If you’re cooking for children, the elderly, or anyone who’s already sick, you might want to make sure it gets eaten earlier.

If you’re fighting with some weird reoccurring mold problem in your house that you just can’t get to finally go away… well, even three days might be pushing it.

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