Sunday, April 10, 2022

Surprising Facts About Expiration Dates / When Food Actually Goes Bad

By Tim Gamble

Did you know that all food is safe to eat until it goes bad? The "best by" or "expiration" date does NOT matter. If the food hasn't gone bad, it is safe to eat even after that date. If the food has gone bad, it isn't safe to eat even if it hasn't yet reached the date printed on it. 

That statement may sound obvious to many of us, but there are a lot of Americans who have a false understanding of so-called "expiration dates." And with many people starting to store up food for the first time due to world circumstances, there is a lot of concern with how long food lasts. Well, it lasts until it goes bad, regardless of any dates stamped on it.

"Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations." -- USDA Website 

In fact, most foods you will buy at the store do NOT actually have expiration dates. In most cases they have "best by" dates. A best buy date is about the freshness of the item, NOT about safety. A best buy date is the company's estimate for how long the item will be at its freshest and tastiest. It is not an estimate of when it will go bad. Most foods, properly stored, will be safe to eat long after they have passed their "best by" date. Some foods may lose some of their nutritional value over time, but they will still be edible and provide calories and some nutrients for years to come, as long as they haven't gone bad. 

Surprising Facts About Expiration Dates
  • Expiration dates are NOT required by federal laws or regulations, except for infant formula (state laws and local regulations may vary for all these).
  • Expiration dates are NOT determined by the government or by government scientists, but rather by the individual companies.
  • It is NOT illegal to sell food, except for infant formula, without expiration dates.
  • It is NOT illegal to sell food after its expiration date (except for infant formula). 
  • It is NOT dangerous or unsafe to eat food past its expiration date, as long as it has not spoiled or "gone bad."
  • It IS legal to donate food past its expiration date.
  • According to the USDA website: "Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law."

So, how do you know when food goes bad? 

But if government doesn't tell you what is safe to eat, how are you supposed to know?* It is about common sense and awareness. Here are some clues to when food has gone bad:

  • The can, bag, or container is leaking, cracked, or bulging.
  • The can is severely dented, especially near the top, bottom, or seams of the can.
  • The can has a noticeable amount of rust (rust may create holes large enough for  germs to enter, but small enough that the product doesn't leak out).
  • There are signs of insects or mold, including dead insects, insect parts, webbing, or insect poop.
  • The food is badly discolored or "smells funny".
  • The texture of the food is wrong.
  • The food tastes bad, wrong, or odd.

A Real World Test

I've been going through my food storage the last few weeks, and have taken the opportunity to "taste test" many foods I purchased years ago, and I haven't died or even gotten sick. Some of the foods I've safely eaten in the last few weeks:
  • Can of spinach purchased in 2015
  • Cans of black beans purchased in 2016
  • Can of green peas purchased in 2015
  • Can of salmon purchased in 2016
  • Dry popcorn purchased in 2011 (stored only in the plastic bag it came in).
  • Brown rice purchased in 2018 (stored only in the plastic bag it came in).
You may also be interest in another brown rice experiment I did a few years ago.  The bottom line is: I ate old food and lived to tell about it. You don't have to live in mortal fear of stamped dates. Use common sense and awareness. 

* The sad fact is many Americans these days are unable to think for themselves. This is intentional, an instilled situation called "learned helplessness" - a behavioral term for when an organism (animal or human) has been taught through external stimuli to NOT help themselves, but to depend on outside factors. In this case, some people fear food unless they think the government or some other "expert" tells them it is safe to eat it. Interestingly, the term "learned helplessness" appears in declassified CIA documents. The CIA defines learned helplessness as a type of instilled "apathy" which it is very difficult or even impossible to overcome.
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3 comments:

  1. I opened a can of Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup that expired in 2007. It looked an smelled fine. When I ate it, the noodles seemed '"mushier" than normal but otherwise tasted fine. Obviously I did not die or get sick. I think canned goods will last quite a while if not damaged or frozen. I also think you would know very quickly if the contents have spoiled. The looks an smell would be obvious.

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  2. Just this week I opened 10 year old Ketchup and 8 year old Italian pesto. Both were fine.

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  3. Very important information here, Tim.
    I just had vegetable beef soup I've had for 4 years and it was delicious. My hope is more people will begin to think for themselves and not need government or someone to tell them what to eat or do.
    I agree learned helplessness is difficult to overcome unless someone makes a conscious effort and then it's still a huge mountain to climb.

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