23 Sep 2007 21:36 UTCSun 23 Sep 2007 - 9:36 pm UTC
I have long suspected that expiration dates are way conservative in order to force people to throw out and buy more food even when it's perfectly fine to eat.
Yesterday I wanted to make spaghetti. I found a bottle of spaghetti sauce that had an expiration date of 2003. I looked at the sauce. It looked fine. I opened the bottle and it smelled fine. I dumped out a bit and it all looked fine. I tasted it and it tasted fine.
I then ate a full plate of spaghetti covered in this 4-year-past-expired sauce and it tasted delicious. It is now about 14 hours later and I feel fine.
Now, I know that milk expiration dates are, if anything, not conservative enough. (I've had bad experiences with milk before. I drink soy milk now.) But, that's because milk isn't in a hermetically sealed container like canned goods and bottled goods are.
Also, some foods can practically be left out on a warm day without deteriorating much (e.g. dry pasta) while others start to evolve into new lifeforms if you look away for a moment (e.g. mayonnaise).
Are there any web pages that list various canned and bottled food products and how long they are still safe to eat compared to their expiration dates?
24 Sep 2007 06:22 UTCMon 24 Sep 2007 - 6:22 am UTC
Please let me know if the following information answers your question.
Business Week A Guide to Shelf Life
Click on the images for a slide show
"For grocery products such as dairy and meat, knowing the “sell by,” “best by,” or “use by” guidelines can help you consume with confidence."
tlspiegel / Toby Lee
24 Sep 2007 11:29 UTCMon 24 Sep 2007 - 11:29 am UTC
Hi Happy Engineer,
Generally, dates on food refer to quality rather than safety and most experts recommend using your common sense when deciding on whether to eat or toss. "Sell by" and "Best before" dates refer to quality while "Use by" is similar to an Expiration date (e.g., on medicine) and should be consumed before that date.
Types of Dates
* A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
* A "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
* A "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
* "Closed or coded dates" are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.
What Do Can Codes Mean?
"Cans must exhibit a packing code to enable tracking of the product in interstate commerce. This enables manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as to locate their products in the event of a recall.
These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They aren't meant for the consumer to interpret as "use-by" dates. There is no book which tells how to translate the codes into dates.
Cans may also display "open" or calendar dates. Usually these are "best if used by" dates for peak quality.
In general, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored on the shelf 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years — if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, dry place."
The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
What do the dates really mean?
Food-product dates can be confusing. Here's what they mean.
"Old dates on food products may not mean the food should be tossed to the trash. A University of Georgia food specialist said some foods are good for longer."
"A sell-by, expiration or use-by date tells the store how long to display a product for sale," said Elizabeth Andress of the UGA Extension Service. "Buy a product before a sell-by date, but it is still safe to use (after then)."
"If a product has a use-by date, however, pay attention. "In particular, never buy or use baby formula or food after its use-by date," Andress warned.
Unlike the other labels, the use-by date it is the last day the manufacturer recommends for the safe use of a food product."
Expiration date on food
Is there a law about the sale of perishable items past their coded expiration date?
"Coded expiration dates on foods are generally used to protect a company against liability related to product quality, which is not necessarily related to product safety. This is different than the expiration dates on drugs, where there are many issues of safety and potency. In foods it is not as critical an issue from the viewpoint of safety. For example, milk held past the expiration date may be clotted and smell, but it is almost certainly safe - just as yogurt and buttermilk is. A canned biscuit past its expiration date may explode out of the package and smell of alcohol, but it could be cooked and eaten with no ill effects. I cannot think of an instance where the code date on a food product is really a safety date."
Douglas L. Holt
Food Science Program
State Extension Specialist for Food Safety
"Yes, expiration dates are not required on food items. Food manufacturers often apply expiration dates to their products as an indicator for freshness and quality (e.g. use by such and such date)."
"...And generally, expiration dates are not a factor in most foodborne illness cases."
Marsha A. Present
Health, Safety & Risk Management
WI Department of Natural Resources
Food Storage Guide . . . Answers the Question . . .
"This publication provides handling tips and recommendations for storing food in your cupboards, refrigerator or freezer. Beyond the guidelines, though, you still have to rely on some old-fashioned common sense. And remember the most basic of rules: When in doubt, throw it out."
- spaghetti,macaroni,etc. 2 years Once opened, store in
- egg noodles 6 months airtight container.
Food Expiration Dates: What Do They Really Mean?
To Toss or Not to Toss
"The expiration dates on foods reflect when to buy or use a product at its best quality. So, while you won’t necessarily get sick from eating expired food, its freshness and nutrient value may be diminished. Therefore, the trick is to know how long a product is safe to eat after its expiration date." [see tips]
What Do Food Expiration Dates Really Mean?
"But even though the expiration dates generally are just advisory, they still are an important guide to freshness."
Thank you for the interesting question. We have enjoyed shopping at a 'damaged goods' store for years and have consumed our share of past due products but I've never thought to research how wise a pastime it is. I'm glad to see that I can continue with my little habit.