Food Expiration Dates – Rule Or Guideline?
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Have you ever poured out some milk or thrown away some canned soup, not because it looked or smelled bad, but because it was past the expiration date? Chances are, you threw away some perfectly good food. Every year, consumers throw out over $200 billion worth of food, oftentimes because of the expiration date.
And why are they throwing out so much food? Because up to 90% of Americans are confused about expirations dates. The fact is, most expiration dates are more like guidelines than rules. Even the USDA says food is still safe to eat after the date has passed as long as it’s not showing any signs of spoilage.
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Just imagine how many hundreds of dollars you’ve wasted by throwing out edible food. It’s not your fault, though. The idea that food is no longer safe to eat after it expires is just common sense, and I’m sure no one ever told you otherwise. Until now.
In this article, we’ll examine the various expiration date terms, what they mean, which foods to throw out after they expire, and which ones to keep.
Food Expiration Date Terms
Here are some common food expiration date terms and what they mean:
BEST IF USED BY
This means the food will be at peak quality by the date listed. It is still safe to eat after the date, but the flavor of the food probably won’t be as good.
This date means that the food should be consumed by the expiration date. It *might* still be safe to eat after the used by date, but to be on the safe side, you would eat it by the date given.
This date is for retailers and means that the product needs to be sold off of the shelves by the date given. Most foods are still safe to eat for a while after that.
So as you can see, not all of these dates indicate that the food is unsafe to eat.
Foods To Throw Out By Expiration Dates
Now I don’t want you to read this article and start ignoring expiration dates completely. There are a wide variety of foods that you should still throw out after they expire. These include:
Berries such as blueberries and strawberries will grow soft and potentially even moldy after their expiration date. They should always be kept in the fridge and eaten no more than ten days after their date of purchase. In the freezer, they can last up to six months.
Sliced deli meat will last five days at the most after opening, and maybe only three or four days. Never consume prepackaged sliced deli meat after the date on the packaging. Otherwise, they can carry bacteria that will grow even in cold temperatures. While other kinds of meat such as ground beef or roasts or pork chops can last longer, to be on the safe side you still shouldn’t eat them more than a few days after the date of expiration.
Milk needs to be stored at the same temperature as it was in the grocery store or else it can be contaminated with bacteria. Always consume milk and other dairy products by the date of expiration.
Seafood, in general, is very vulnerable to contamination by bacteria. Always eat as soon as possible after buying.
Foods You Can Eat After The Expiration Date
Here is a list of common foods that should be safe to eat after the date of expiration:
Anything that is pickled, meaning it is stored in acidic and salty liquid, will last for several months if not years following the expiration date.
BREAD AND CEREAL
As long as you freeze your bread before the expiration date, it will last a lot longer than it would on the counter or even in the refrigerator. The same goes for cereal, except cereal doesn’t need to be frozen in order to last long.
So long as your cereal is properly sealed off against outside oxygen, it should last anywhere from six months to one year following the expiration date. It may not taste as fresh, but it will still be safe to eat.
This is the big one. One of the reasons canned goods are so popular among preppers is because they last for a long time after their official expiration date. The reason for this is that the cans, assuming they remain untampered with, do not get any air or oxygen inside of them, so there’s no potential for bacteria to grow. But to be on the safe side, keep the cans in a cool and dark location.
So long as you keep your eggs properly refrigerated, they will last for at least one month after the expiration date. Here’s a good test you can use to know if your eggs are safe: if the egg sinks to the bottom in a bowl of water, it is safe to eat. If it floats, then throw it out.
Believe it or not, mayonnaise can last up to four months after the date of expiration, so long as it’s stored at the same temperature at home as it was in the grocery store.
As we discussed previously, meat can go bad rather quickly. But if you freeze your meat, it can last up to a year past the expiration date.
As long as you store it properly (sealed and kept in a cool, dark location), you should be able to keep pasta for several years after the expiration date, thanks to the fact that it is a dried good. Just keep it inside the pantry and NOT in the fridge.
Potato chips will last for several months following the date of expiration as they are highly processed.
Soda can last for nine months to one year following the expiration date, both in the fridge and outside of it.
As a final piece of advice, remember to exercise caution when eating food that goes past the expiration date. If there’s anything about a food that you don’t like, such as a taste or smell that’s just ‘off,’ then it’s better to stay on the safe side and to avoid eating it.
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