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Expired Food: OK to Eat?

What 'Expiring' Means

Could ignoring expiration, use-by and sell-by dates cause you to expire prematurely? The answer may be “no” more often that you’d think.So what do all of these date codes mean, and when is it safe to eat foods past those dates? Here’s what you need to know about all those grocery codes and when they might not even matter.Photo Credit: norwichnuts

When Mold is Safe

While it may seem counterintuitive at first, expiration dates on cheese, which is prone to molding over time, may not even be necessary.The Food and Drug Administration has even said that, while certain soft cheeses, especially when left at room temperature, may support growth of harmful bacteria, many types of cheese don’t have to be marked with the number of days a consumer can expect a product to be safe and fresh.Cheeses that do not support growth of L. monocytogenes include hard or semisoft cheeses such as cheddar, Romano, Colby, Swiss and various pasteurized process cheeses. On the other hand, consumers should pay attention to dates listed on soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, cottage, ricotta and Teleme. And if your cheese gets moldy, some of it still may be edible. Depending on the type of cheese, it may be safe to just cut off the moldy parts and eat the rest, according to the Mayo Clinic. Photo Credit: adactio

Still-Edible Eggs

Dates listed on egg cartons can be confusing, but they’re usually safe for consumption weeks after the date on the carton.If they’re graded by the USDA, they’re required to have a pack date, a three-digit number displaying the consecutive day of the year (for example, Dec. 31 would be listed as 365). If that package also has a sell-by date, it can’t be more than 45 days beyond the pack date. Regardless of whether the sell-by date has passed, once the eggs reach your fridge, you can keep them there for three to five weeks, according to the USDA. Yet the agency also says that many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. If that’s the case, it would be no surprise that eggs could taste just as good even after two months in your fridge. We’ve heard stories of three-month-old eggs tasting just fine, and the USDA package dating refers to quality, not safety. Still, the agency doesn’t recommend that eggs be stored in your fridge for more than five weeks.For more fun facts about eggs, visit the Food Services of America Web site. Photo Credit: the_girl

Safe Lunch Meats

Some products don’t even have dates on their packages. But prepackaged lunch meats can last two weeks unopened in your fridge, then three to five days once opened. On the other hand, fully cooked ham only lasts seven days unopened in the fridge and three days if sliced once it’s open. However, if a package has a use-by date specifically, the USDA recommends following that date.Catering to those who forget about things in their fridge, or even those with flighty tastes, Hormel, the maker of Spam, has developed sliced meat that can last a full 120 days when refrigerated. Beyond Hormel’s scientific interventions, however, the shelf life of sliced meat has more to do with when it was sliced and repacked than the best-by date, according to one scientific study of meats stored for no more than 42 days.Photo Credit: Nikchick

Best Baby Food

The freshness of baby food might not be something you want to guess at, so keep in mind that the “use-by” date only refers to the quality and nutrient level of foods. While the USDA says baby food and formula should not be used after the use-by date, it also may be unsafe if the jar is dirty, cracked or has a rusty lid, and shouldn’t be used if the jar’s vacuum seal is broken, according to the USDA. Regardless of whether you buy processed baby food or opt to make your own, babies younger than 12 months should not eat strawberries, cow's milk, wheat, seafood, citrus fruits, tomatoes, ice cream or chocolate due to possible allergic reactions.Photo Credit: benklocek

Sell by 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, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meat, for example, could still be fresh on or after that date, but the best way to check whether meat has gone bad is looking for a change in color plus a change in odor or texture, according to Consumer Reports. “Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like. The flesh should be shiny and firm and should spring back when pressed,” Consumer Reports says.Photo Credit: norwichnuts

Use-By Dates

A "best if used by,” “use by” or “use before” label tells consumers the date when flavor and quality may start to decrease. It actually doesn’t refer to safety at all. If you consume food before its use-by date, you should be eating it at its peak quality based on estimates from the manufacturer, the USDA says.Of course, if you can’t use it within a few days, you can use it after expiration if you freeze it. But you’ll have to use it within a certain number of months for the best quality, the USDA says. Photo Credit: mikefats

Expiration Dates

Many foods are still safe after their expiration date. And actually, expiration dates don’t have much, if anything, to do with food safety. They’re meant to indicate how long a product can be at its peak quality. “After the date passes, while not of best quality, the product should still be safe if handled properly and kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below for the recommended storage times...” the USDA says.But, for instance, if you don’t refrigerate perishables promptly or you don’t handle them properly, expiration dates are meaningless. Photo Credit: Muffet

Can Codes

Regardless of expiration, “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,” the USDA says. That is, if the can isn’t dented or damaged and it’s stored in a cool, dry place.Photo Credit: pablo.diaz

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