Who hasn't tempted fate by tucking into a fridge item a few days – or more – past its use-by date?
But when it comes to flouting food safety labels, do some foods pose a greater risk than others? And can we afford to ignore them, if not wasting food is the goal in mind?
What's the difference between use-by, sell-by and best-before?
Before going against the advice of certain labels you should probably know exactly what you're ignoring, starting with the ubiquitous use-by, sell-by and best-before dates.
Sell-by should be pretty obvious – it refers to when a product can be legally sold by. The "use-by" label always resonated a more stern and authoritative tone than its passive counterpart, "best-before" – and well, that's the point, really.
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Dr Sandra Cuthbert, general manager for the Food Safety and Corporate Branch at Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) explains the 'use by' date is about safety, and a 'best before' date is about quality.
"Any food with a use-by date must be eaten before a certain time, because they may pose a health or safety risk after that date. These are generally fresh foods that are highly perishable and need to kept refrigerated – for example, deli meats, fresh milk, poultry, seafood," she tells 9Honey.
These foods should not be eaten after their use by date – and can't legally be sold after this date.
The lion's share of food products, however, don a 'best-before date, and that's where you get a little wiggle-room.
"These are usually packaged shelf stable foods like biscuits, dry pasta and long-life milk. You can generally still eat foods after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality," Dr Cuthbert says.
"Food that has a best-before date can legally be sold after that date, as long as it is fit for human consumption."
Do all foods have a use-by, sell-by or best-before date?
Bread isn't subject to the same rules as some perishables, and can be labelled with a 'baked on' or 'baked for' date if its shelf life is less than seven days. Then, really, it's up to the consumer if or when it should get tossed out (more on that shortly).
Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, like many canned foods, don't need to be labelled with a best-before or use-by date.
"This is because it's difficult to give an accurate guide as to how long these foods will keep, as they may retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil," Dr Cuthbert explains.
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Is it safe to eat food past its expiry date?
Not necessarily. Food becomes unsafe to eat when disease-causing microorganisms grow in it, and as there's no real way to tell if these microscopic nasties are present, organisations like FSANZ advise strongly against eating foods past their use-by date.
"These microorganisms, such as listeria and salmonella bacteria,can grow rapidly in fresh foods, especially if these foods have become cross-contaminated by dirty hands, or been left out of the fridge for long periods," Dr Cuthbert says.
The fact is, not all food exhibits the signs of spoilage, such as mould and a rotten odour.
So for those who still want to test the limits, there's a few things you should know.
Does the sniff test work?
Food poisoning isn't much fun, but how many are willing to wage their health – and stomach contents – on good old olfactory senses? Sadly, the fact is the trusty 'sniff test' doesn't always work.
"Unfortunately you can't generally tell if food is safe or not by simply looking, tasting or smelling it," Dr Cuthbert says.
"The best way to be sure is to eat the food by its use-by date, and by following manufacturers' storage and cooking instructions."
Does frozen food go off?
"Freezing" food is a bit of a misnomer, as really you're just slowing down the decaying process. But in saying that, it does prolong the life of food items.
"Freezing items, like meat, before their use-by date allows you to keep them beyond that date, but you should always defrost them in the fridge and use them as soon as they are thawed to be sure they are still safe, Dr Cuthbert says, adding: "Freezer doors often give guidance on how long frozen food should be kept frozen."
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Do packaged foods go off?
Packaged foods, on the other hand, do not generally support the growth of harmful microorganisms – even some with a best-before date.
"They are usually fine to keep for longer periods, but may lose some of their quality."
Which foods can be eaten after their expiry dates?
Eggs, particularly refrigerated eggs, are usually safe to use past their best before date. You may have heard old eggs float in water and this trick can indicate the level of freshness, but a floating egg doesn't necessarily mean it's spoiled.
These days milk goes through a pasteurisation process that kills off nasties like listeria. Drinking spoiled milk can cause food poisoning if consumed in large amounts, but a sip is unlikely to cause any harm. If it's been properly refrigerated and hasn't exceeded its use-by date by much, it's worth checking if the milk smells funky, has thickened or has changed colour before tossing.
Once a tub of yoghurt has been opened it should be eaten within a week. However, if it's been sealed and refrigerated it may be usable for up to two weeks after the best-before date.
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This depends on the type of cheese but generally speaking, it will last longer than its recommended best-before date. White mould is pretty normal for some cheeses, but dark mould should never be consumed. For hard, aged cheese you can scrape off mould spots and rub with a salt solution, however more porous cheeses (like soft cheese), or packet grated cheeses with more surface area, should be tossed if you spot mould on them.
Cooked or raw meat
Even cooking your spoiled meat to oblivion won't kill off dangerous toxins in the flesh, so it's not recommended you use past its recommended use-by date – with the exception of frozen meat. If frozen, thaw in the fridge and consume immediately after it's thawed.
They often have a longer shelf life than conventional greens and veggies, and if they've remained sealed may be safe to consume after the use-by date – however, be sure to inspect for mould and toss if you spot any.
Fruit or veg juice
Fresh fruit juice that is acidic will keep longer than vegetable juice that is not. Shelf-stable juices with added sugar and preservatives will last for months after the expiration date if left sealed.
In the case of bread, appearance and smell tells you more than a use-by or a baked-on date. Check for mould (any mould) and a sour smell. Storing in the refrigerator will prolong its life.
Even deli meat that seems okay after the expiration date should be chucked. It's not worth the risk, with listeria and other sinister organisms possibly present.
Unopened ice-cream can last up to three or four months, and opened ice-cream is usually only good for half that.
Honey, molasses and maple syrup
Because of the high-sugar, low-moisture content and viscosity of these pantry syrups, they can last well after their expiration date.
These air-tight goods can last for two years or longer.
Biscuits, crisps, dried pasta and long-life milk
Items dried pasta and long-life milk can last up to two years or more past the expiration date. For highly processed items like store-bought biscuits and packets of chips, it will depend on a few factors, like if they're completely dehydrated and still in the original sealed packaging, but generally will last at least a couple months after their best-before date.
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Now and then: Favourite celebrity chefs and food icons
- Jarred Condiments. It may seem like condiments last forever, but the truth is that once the safety seal on your jars is broken, bacteria is slowly starting to collect. ...
- Soft Cheeses. ...
- Egg Substitutes. ...
- Cold Pressed Juice. ...
- Fresh Berries.
After all, if food isn't properly stored or packaged, it can go bad even before the expiration date. But as long as you aren't seeing any signs of spoilage, most foods should still be good to eat well past their expiration dates (good news for that bottle of ketchup in your fridge).Are expiration dates totally meaningless the food safety rules that matter? ›
These dates aren't required by federal law (though some states require them) and don't necessarily indicate a product's safety (with the exception of baby formula). In fact, perishable products are usually safe to consume beyond their “best by” date if they've been handled and stored properly.How long can you eat food after the expiration date? ›
Most shelf-stable foods are safe indefinitely. In fact, canned goods will last for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the 'best by' date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor.Can you eat eggs 2 months out of date? ›
You can eat eggs past their expiration date. Just be sure to keep your eggs egg-cellent by storing them correctly. If you don't know if an egg is good or not, you can try the float test or give it a whiff. If it doesn't pass the test, throw it away.What happens if you eat 1 year expired food? ›
"If you do eat a food past the expiration date [and the food] is spoiled, you could develop symptoms of food poisoning," said registered dietitian nutritionist Summer Yule, MS. The symptoms of foodborne illness can include fever, chills, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.Do expiry dates really matter? ›
The dates solely indicate freshness, and are used by manufacturers to convey when the product is at its peak. That means the food does not expire in the sense of becoming inedible. For un-refrigerated foods, there may be no difference in taste or quality, and expired foods won't necessarily make people sick.Can I eat expired eggs? ›
Eggs that are expired but not spoiled may still be perfectly fine to eat. However, eating old eggs that have been damaged or contaminated puts you at risk of getting sick from contracting the foodborne bacterium Salmonella.Does cheese expire if unopened? ›
Generally, unopened hard cheeses don't need to be refrigerated but will last much longer if they are. Unopened blocks of hard cheese last 6 months in the fridge (3). Soft cheeses last 1–2 weeks in the fridge after opening while most hard cheeses last 3–4.What is the truth about use by dates? ›
A use-by date on food is about safety. This is the most important date to remember. Never eat food after the use-by date, even if it looks and smells ok, as it could make you very ill. You can eat food until midnight on the use-by date shown on a product, but not after, unless the food has been cooked or frozen.
So in a sense, expiration dates aren't real. The USDA doesn't create expiration dates for safety, it just determines when the product won't be "top quality" by manufacturing standards — though oftentimes, the dates are way off.What happens to expired food in grocery stores? ›
"Items that are deemed to be unfit to be consumed are composted, food cycled and recycled where possible, given to local farmers for animal food or composting and finally discarded if there are no other options available," Reynolds said.Can you eat sweets 2 years out of date? ›
Can you still eat after the best before date? It's generally fine to eat sweets once they've past their best before dates. There is nothing in sweets that can 'go off' and make you sick.Can water expire? ›
While water doesn't expire, some concerns are associated with its plastic bottles. These vessels can produce health concerns and odd tastes as they degrade over time and microplastics enter the water. Properly storing water in your warehouse, office or facility may help mitigate these risks.Can you eat butter 3 months out of date? ›
Refrigerated butter should last up to a month past the printed date if it's unopened. If the butter has been opened, it can last up to two weeks past that printed date. If you're storing the butter longer term, unopened butter stored in the freezer can last anywhere from nine months to a year past the date.Do eggs expire if refrigerated? ›
Eggs may be refrigerated three to five weeks from the day they are placed in the refrigerator. The "Sell-By" date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs will be perfectly safe to use.Do eggs need to be refrigerated? ›
Do Fresh Eggs Need to Be Refrigerated? Freshly laid eggs need to be refrigerated immediately. Fresh eggs purchased from a farmers market need to be refrigerated as soon as you get home. Per USDA guidelines, eggs should be stored at 40 degrees F or below to help minimize the risk of Salmonella.How do you tell if an egg is bad after cracking it? ›
The best way to determine if your egg is spoiled is by cracking it open into a bowl. If the egg white is pink or iridescent this is an indication of spoilage due to Pseudomonas bacteria. Some of these bacteria can make us sick when eaten and they will produce a greenish, fluorescent, water-soluble color.Can you eat expired peanut butter? ›
Peanut butter can go bad. And when it does, you definitely shouldn't eat it. Eating rancid peanut butter can lead to tummy troubles like cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting. In severe situations, it can also give you Salmonella.Can you use flour 4 years out of date? ›
Most packaged flours have expiration dates — also called best-by dates — printed on the bag to indicate how long they'll stay fresh. However, these labels aren't mandatory and don't denote safety. Thus, your flour may still be safe to eat even after the best-by date (9).
If wrapped and stored properly, refined flours will keep for six to eight months at room temperature, up to one year in the fridge and up to two years in the freezer. Whole-wheat flours will keep for three months at room temperature and up to a year in the fridge or freezer.Can you sell expired food in Canada? ›
It is not illegal to sell a product if its best-before date has passed. However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed. Some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content, may also be lost.Is it safe to eat mayonnaise after the expiration date? ›
As long as the product has been stored properly, your mayonnaise should be good for three to four months after the best before date.Can you eat expired yogurt? ›
According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Foodkeeper app, yogurt should be consumed within 1 to 2 weeks of the purchase date. (This time frame assumes you've been refrigerating your yogurt, by the way.) After that, there's no guarantee that your yogurt is still safe to eat. It's best to throw it out.Can you freeze boiled eggs? ›
Remove the pan from the heat and let the yolks stand, covered, in the hot water about 12 minutes. Remove the yolks with a slotted spoon, drain them well and package them for freezing. It's best not to freeze hard-boiled whole eggs and hard-boiled whites because they become tough and watery when frozen.
Yes, you can freeze eggs. Eggs can be frozen for up to a year, although it is recommended to use them within 4 months for freshness. Many people find themselves being left with spare egg whites or yolks after a recipe requiring just one or the other, or even throwing out unused eggs when the box hits its expiry date.Can you eat 2 week old hard-boiled eggs? ›
Hard-boiled eggs, peeled or unpeeled, are safe to eat up to seven days or one full week after they were cooked. To make sure they stay fresh, allow the cooked eggs cool a bit, and then store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator.Do Kraft Singles go bad? ›
Expiration dates are found on the back of your package of KRAFT Singles. DO KRAFT SINGLES GO BAD? Yes, KRAFT Singles should be kept in the refrigerator. Expiration dates can be found on the back of the package.Are Kraft Singles bad for you? ›
One Kraft single is 60 calories, which isn't mind-bogglingly high, and the slice has protein and calcium. However, the high amounts of sodium and fat will keep it from landing on a list of healthy foods.Can you eat 2 year old frozen cheese? ›
Frozen Hard Cheeses
When freezing hard cheeses like manchego, parmesan, or cheddar, these can last a long time. If frozen properly, they can last up to 2 years in the freeze. It is best to eat within 6-9 months for the ultimate freshness.
Tea is relatively forgiving, and rarely spoils as long as it's stored properly. Old tea may simply be less flavorful and fresh than new tea, and will brew up a weaker cup with a stale flavor. In this sense, tea doesn't actually have an “expiration date” after which it will be unsafe to drink.Does sperm have a use-by date? ›
The life span of sperm after ejaculation depends on the circumstances. Ejaculated sperm remain viable for several days within the female reproductive tract. Fertilization is possible as long as the sperm remain alive — up to five days. Sperm can also be preserved for decades when semen is frozen.When did they start putting expiration dates on food? ›
In the 1970s, grocery shoppers clamored for more information about the quality of food on supermarket shelves. Under pressure from activists, including the distribution of pamphlets deciphering sell-by codes, food makers began to put dates on their labels.Are canned tomatoes safe after expiration date? ›
High acid canned goods such as canned fruits, including tomatoes, should be eaten within 12-18 months2 past their expiration date.How strict are expiration dates on food? ›
Are Dates for Food Safety or Food Quality? Manufacturers provide dating to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality. Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product's safety and are not required by Federal law.Do cans of soda have an expiration date? ›
Carbonated soft drinks or sodas are not perishable, and are safe past the date stamped on the container. Eventually flavor and carbonation will decrease. For best quality, consume unopened diet sodas within 3 months after the date expires; regular sodas within 9 months.What does Costco do with unsold food? ›
A landfill is the last resort. Costco re-uses some products it fails to sell, such as turning rotisserie chickens into pies, soup, and wings (per Coscto's website). Meatloaf, stuffed peppers, and shepherd's pie are all filled using unsold beef, too.What does Walmart do with leftover food? ›
In FY2022, we donated more than 696 million pounds of food in the U.S. alone. Finally, if food is no longer edible, we work to convert it to animal feed, compost or energy.Is it OK to buy expired food? ›
Are expired foods or nearly expired foods safe to eat? Yes, though they may not taste as good as if you had eaten them earlier. Consumers often mistakenly believe expired products are no longer consumable. About 80% of Americans prematurely discard food due to confusion over date labels, said Food Marketing Institute.Should I throw away expired chocolate? ›
If your chocolate smells bad or has any kind of mold, it's time to throw it in the trash. And if there are any cracks on the surface, chances are that the chocolate is stale and past its prime. Use your best judgment: If it looks and smells like chocolate, it'll likely taste like chocolate.
Chocolate chips: Unopened in the pantry, chocolate chips are good for two to four months. You can also keep them in the fridge for six to eight months or the freezer for two to three years if they're bound for a future batch of cookie dough.Can you eat 20 year old sugar? ›
"Technically sugar never spoils," explain food safety experts from the US Department of Agriculture's Food Service and Inspection Service, though they do add, "for best quality it is recommended to use within two years of opening."Do plastic bottles expire? ›
But because plastic can begin leaching into bottled water over time, they generally have an expiration date of 2 years from the date of manufacture. Figuring out how to stay hydrated is vital to your health, with water doing everything from preventing dehydration to carrying nutrients and oxygen to your entire body.Can you drink day old water? ›
We've all gotten a mouthful of weird-tasting morning-after water, but why does the flavor change? And is it safe to drink? The short answer is that it's perfectly fine to drink.Can you drink water that has been sitting out for a week? ›
You should avoid drinking water left open for a very long time. The water left overnight or for a long period of time in an open glass or container is home to numerous bacterias and is not safe for drinking. You never know how much dust, debris, and other small microscopic particles might have passed into that glass.Does real butter need to be refrigerated? ›
The Bottom Line
Keeping butter in the fridge maximizes freshness, while leaving it on the counter keeps it soft and spreadable for immediate use. It's fine to keep regular, salted butter out of the fridge, as long as it's concealed from heat, light and air.
This rule is simple. If you prefer unsalted butter, refrigerate it. Same goes for whipped butter. If it creeps above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in your kitchen, all butter should go into the fridge to avoid going bad — even into the freezer if you want to store it for a few months.Can you put butter back in the fridge after leaving it out? ›
“If the butter has only been on the counter at room temperature for a few hours or overnight and has maintained a temperature below 70°F, it should be just fine to place back in the fridge,” says Ryan.What is the difference between shelf life and expiration date? ›
The term "shelf life" of a drug slightly differs from a drug's "expiration date." The shelf life generally relates to a drug's quality over a specified period of time, whereas the expiration date relates to both quality and safety of a medication at a specific point in time.Can we eat bread after expiry date? ›
Bread will generally become stale past its expiration date, but it's still safe to eat. If it's moldy, toss it out. To extend its shelf life, toss it in the freezer.
Most packaged flours have expiration dates — also called best-by dates — printed on the bag to indicate how long they'll stay fresh. However, these labels aren't mandatory and don't denote safety. Thus, your flour may still be safe to eat even after the best-by date (9).Can food last 20 years? ›
According to the USDA, most shelf-stable foods will last indefinitely if they are kept in good condition (meaning free of rust, major dents, or swelling).Which lasts longer pasta or rice? ›
Dried pasta can last for one to two years whereas dry rice is good for four to five years. The best thing you can do with your grains is practice first in, first out storage. Meaning, reach for your older box of pasta or rice before digging into the new ones.What is the rule of expiration date? ›
Expiration dates on food products are not required by federal law, except for infant formula. When they're used, they usually indicate that the food should have its best taste and texture up until that date. It is an assurance of quality, not an assurance of safety. 1.What does 3 year shelf life mean? ›
Defining shelf life
Shelf life is based on how long a product will remain usable while it sits unopened on a shelf. That life span starts from the moment the can is sealed in the factory. So, if a product has a 3-year shelf-life, the 3-year countdown begins on its manufacture date.
The dates solely indicate freshness, and are used by manufacturers to convey when the product is at its peak. That means the food does not expire in the sense of becoming inedible.Does water expire? ›
While water doesn't expire, some concerns are associated with its plastic bottles. These vessels can produce health concerns and odd tastes as they degrade over time and microplastics enter the water. Properly storing water in your warehouse, office or facility may help mitigate these risks.Can I eat expired peanut butter? ›
Peanut butter can go bad. And when it does, you definitely shouldn't eat it. Eating rancid peanut butter can lead to tummy troubles like cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting. In severe situations, it can also give you Salmonella.Can you eat food that's been frozen for a year? ›
Food can remain frozen indefinitely and technically be safe to eat, as bacteria will not grow. However, over time all frozen food will deteriorate in quality and become unappetising to eat when defrosted. The time it takes for this deterioration to happen varies between foods.