Monday, April 14, 2014

Is it safe to eat?

Millions of dollars are thrown into the trash each year due to expired food items, but does this have to be? Can you eat expired food items safely?

How do you react when you discover that a food item has expired?

A. Eat it anyways knowing that it has enough preservatives to last a lifetime.
B. Throw it out right away; with no hesitation and no questions asked.
C. Check the calendar to see how far expired it is.
D. Smell it, take a tiny taste and then if it seems alright proceed with caution
E. Call your Mother or best friend and ask for advice.

It is something that most people will experience at some point in life, finding a food item that has been forgotten until expired But how do you know, if it is safe to eat? Some foods are pretty easy to tell, milk for example; when it is gone bad you can tell by the disgusted look coming from the fridge. Fresh foods are easy to tell when they have expired and the life has gone out of them. Lettuce gets all dried up and can even get crispy to the touch. Celery gets all limp and lifeless. These things are pretty easy to tell. Bread gets moldy and cheese grows colorful. There are clues that these fresh foods have gone bad and should end up in the trash, but what about the array of  processed, packaged food items that line the shelves of our supermarkets, how do you tell about them? Many people use the dates on packages and cans to decipher the freshness and safety of a product.

There are two types of dates that are printed on our processed food items. One is a "use by" date and one is a "sell by" date. A "use by" date is the one to pay a bit more attention to. This means that the food is at it's freshest before that date. After a period of time the food begins to lose some of its nutrition and sometimes the texture or color can begin to change. Much of the food is still safe to eat after this date. In fact, there have been cans of food that are many years old that when opened and tested by scientists the contents were fine for consumption. A "sell by date" on the other hand, is really just a way for the large food companies to  ensure that their products are being rotated and that their products are moving and being sold. These foods often have plenty of preservatives and really do not go bad. Some of these foods really could last a lifetime. 

So what do you do when you find a food item that has expired? You do not have to get in a hurry about throwing it out. Much of the food is good well beyond the date printed on the label. The most important thing is to check the original packaging. I am a bit concerned to eat food from a dented, rusted over can that looks like it has been rolling around in the back of a farmers truck for the last two months. On the other hand I am not so worried about something in the original package that is several years expired that looks like it might have been forgotten in the deep, dark, depths of the pantry. If the original packaging is in tact it is likely still good to eat.

Much of the freshness of a product is built into the packaging. Most processed foods will keep well in the sealed package, but once the original packaging is opened or damaged then the food tends to go rancid and loose its appeal. An unopened box of crackers will remain fresh for several months, or even a year after the expiration date, but those same crackers when opened, can go stale sitting on the shelf long before that date ever arrives. Once food is opened then it is best to use it up within a reasonable amount of time. 

Use your senses. If it is in an original package and is in tact and not opened, I would say that is a good indication that it is Ok to consume. If you open a can, bottle or package and the contents seems strange or the smell seems really off; be careful, and if your inner voice says "stay away" I would listen to that. Avoid any can that is dented. Dented cans may have small air leaks allowing air and bacteria to get into the food, so dented cans are a cause for concern, but no so much as a bulging can. Do NOT consume any food from a bulging can, it absolutely is not safe.  Bulging cans are a huge indication that the food has gone bad.

Once you discover that  a product is past "the date" and expired, the next thing to do is to check the packaging. If it is all in tact and looks good then I would suggest that you would be fine to go ahead and use it rather than tossing it.  If for some reason you just can't use expired food, consider sharing with someone such as a single mother or a widow who may be having a tough time making ends meet. They would probably be grateful for the blessing. 



  1. Food being wasted always bothers me. Like when I buy Parmesan cheese and it goes bad... I think meal planning could eliminate much of the waste.

  2. I have always been bold about eating food. Cutting the mold off cheese and carefully reheating leftovers and trying them before throwing them away. Then I found out that I have histamine intolerance and I'm tending to eat more fresh foods and throwing away stuff I would have definitely eaten before. It was uncontrollable insomnia and unpredictable digestion that did not respond to the paleo/gaps protocols that brought me to this conclusion. All I'm saying is that although this food will probably not kill you; in some cases it can be a potential problem for people who can't tolerate the histamine build up older food gets. Just a different point of view:)

    1. Now there is something I never thought about. I shop at a clearence center where they sell scratch and dent, shelf stable expired or near expired and fresh or freezer items about to expire. I buy as much whole clean food as I can, but with limited income and limited budget we have to make other things work. I wonder now if some of my problems that I thought were related to the PCOS are from eating older expired foods. Stopping by from the Lets Get Real hop and my non blogger site.

  3. This is a tricky one and I must admit I always err on the side of caution. You've raised some good points in this post! Pinned to my Healthy Eating board on Pinterest :-)

  4. I have a friend who throws it out immediately. I'm more of the "sniff and taste" type. :-) Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop; I hope you'll join us again this Thursday.
    Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

  5. Very informative post! I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,