Don’t be too quick to throw away all of your expired goods.
The words “best before” or “best by” are already familiar for buyers as almost every consumable product comes with this label. However, there are still some common misconceptions on how long we can safely eat a product.
Many people believe that a food expiration date entails when the product is going to be inedible, but this is not always the case. Expiry dates have different types: sell-by date, best before date, and use-by date.
The terms “sell by”, “best before/best by” are often mixed up as they can be confusing. But these terms differ in the following ways:
• The sell-by date refers to when the store will remove the item from the shelves, away from consumers’ reach. This date is more helpful for the retailers than to consumers.
• The best before date refers to the peak of the product’s quality and taste.
• The use-by date refers to the final date when it’s safe to consume the product before it turns bad. This does not mean that a product that exceeds its use-by date is toxic or poisonous; rather, it means that the food will degrade to a lower quality which can be in a dangerous state.
These three are often mixed up, hence the misconception that any food past its sell-by date is inedible. In general, the food is still safe to eat but the quality of the taste and appearance will start to deteriorate. However, that does not guarantee that it is safe. Consumers must depend on their common sense for obvious signs such as foul smell, molds, rotten appearance, or unusual taste.
Contrary to popular belief that it’s not safe to eat something that is past its expiry date, the following items are actually safe to eat even after their expiration date:
• Frozen food
• Prepackaged produce
Still, there are foods you can’t eat past their expiration. Some of them are:
• Specialty juices
• Fresh berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries
• Deli meat
• Soft cheese
• Leafy greens
• Fresh meat
Health risk of eating expired food
Although it is not technically deadly to eat something after its expiry date since the concern of the date is on the taste, there are still some health risks in eating expired food. One of the most common risks is food poisoning. The common signs of food poisoning are:
• Stomach cramps
• Frequent vomiting
• Fever and dizziness
• Persistent diarrhea
These symptoms may continue for hours, days, or weeks depending on the severity of the condition. Note that food in poor conditions that are also beyond its use-by date may be contaminated with bacterial infections like listeria or salmonella which can lead to food poisoning. When any of these symptoms shows and persists, it’s best to consult a doctor.
Common shelf life of food products
Since expiration dates are merely guides, it’s good to remember the average lifespan of food products.
• Eggs are good for three to five weeks after purchase (when bought before the sell-by date).
• Milk lasts usually a week after its sell-by date.
• Beef and pork should be cooked or frozen within three to five days of purchase.
• Poultry or seafood should also be cooked or frozen within a day or two.
• For canned goods, highly acidic foods such as tomato sauce can be kept for 18 months or more.
• Low-acid canned foods such as green beans are safe to consume up to five years.
Food and nutrition experts also advise proper storage. This can help prolong the lifeline of food, as humidity can speed up the deterioration of the product. The taste, aroma, and appearance can also change quickly when food products are exposed to hotter temperatures.
Canned goods should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place away from direct sunlight. The Food and Drug Administration of the United States also notes that canned goods with obvious bacterial growth should be thrown away no matter what the expiration date is.
Food safety tips
Product dates are not necessarily accurate all the time. Consumers should be careful and observant when making purchases. Below are tips from the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Services:
• It’s best to purchase a product before its expiration date.
• When a food is perishable, it should be immediately refrigerated at home. If the product can’t be cooked or used within its average lifespan, the food should be stored in the refrigerator at all cost.
• A frozen perishable good is safe to use even if its expiration date has passed.
• Consumers should also follow the handling recommendations of each product.