Foods You’re Likely Eating Expired (Some Are Okay, Some Aren’t)

August 26, 2019  |  
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expired foods and health

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It’s a shame to throw food away. Every time I do it, I just imagine my dollars going directly down the drain (or into the trash bin). I also become frustrated with myself for mismanaging my meals like that. I knew I should have added that spinach to that omelet a few days ago—I knew that if I didn’t then, I wouldn’t find another way to use it—and here I am, tossing it out. If I’m making my meals at home, but having to throw away food that I don’t eat on time, them I’m still wasting money even while eating in. For this reason, I’m often tempted to just eat food past it’s Best By date. Sometimes it goes okay; sometimes I pay the price of a stomachache and long night in the bathroom after. That’s because some foods are pretty much okay to eat past their expiration date, and some definitely are not. Keep in mind that a Use By and Best By date are different. The former means the item will most likely be good until around that date, and likely won’t make you sick after, but won’t be as good. The latter (Best By) is more of a guarantee about how long the item will be at its best quality. But you still need to use your own judgment much of the time. Here are foods it’s okay to eat after the expiration date, and foods you should never touch after it.


expired foods and health

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Okay: Eggs

Look for a three-digit number on the carton. This represents the day the eggs came out of the hen. The number 001, for example, means the eggs were laid on January 1st. The number 365 means the eggs came out on December 31st. You can eat the eggs within 30 days of that date.

expired foods and health

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Never: Deli meat

Though deli meat seems like a preserved food, it’s not the same as a truly dried meat like beef jerk. Deli meats, like packaged sliced turkey and salami, can develop listeria past their expiration date.

expired foods and health

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Okay: Bread

Bread is fine so long as you don’t see any mold. It may not be very good after it’s expiration date (i.e. it could be stale), but it won’t make you sick. Remember you can also freeze it before its expiration date, and just defrost it at any time you want to eat it. There is, however, one caveat about bread that you’ll find in the next slide.

expired foods and health

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Never: Rye bread

Do not eat rye bread past its expiration date. Rye bread is a very specific type of baked good as it can develop a grain fungi called ergot that you don’t want to consume.

expired foods and health

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Okay: Low-acid canned goods

Noticing that emergency food supply kit getting old? You probably don’t have to toss your canned goods just yet. Low-acidic goods like veggies, beans, and tuna last for five years stored in a cool, dry place. That being said, high-acidic canned goods like tomatoes and orange slices last just a year and a half. There is a caveat about canned goods too, though. Read on…

expired foods and health

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Never: dented cans

Though you may not be able to see it, a dented can may contain a pin-sized hole, and that hole allows air to enter and mix with the contents inside to form bacteria called clostridium botulinum, which attacks the nervous system.

expired foods and health

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Okay: Dried pasta

Dried pasta, stored in an airtight jar or in its original unopened box in a cool, dry place, can last one to two years past the Best By date. It may not be as good two years in, but a great sauce can fix that.

expired foods and health

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Never: Cold pressed juice

Remember that cold pressed juice is not pasteurized, meaning it hasn’t gone through the sterilization process of heating it up to kill off bacteria. Don’t drink these pricey juices past their expiration date.

expired foods and health

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Okay: Fresh produce

It’s difficult to put an expiration date on produce, since there are so many factors that affect its freshness. Avocados, for example, ripen fast on a counter but almost completely stop ripening if put in the refrigerator. You’ll really just need to use an eyeball test and check for signs of deterioration like mold, browning, and softening. But in many cases, until you see these signs, the food is okay to eat. There is a caveat here again…

expired foods and health

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Never: Leafy greens

Do not mess with the expiration date of leafy greens—especially prepared salads like precut romaine and spring mixes. These are so overly handled that they run a high risk of carrying E. coli. It’s best to obey the Best By date on these.

expired foods and health

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Okay: Frozen food

The reality is that, so long is your freezer is plugged in and set to a really low temperature, frozen food should last…indefinitely. It will eventually develop freezer burn, which makes it limp and unappetizing in appearance, but even that won’t make you sick. The general rule for frozen food is three months in the freezer but, really, you can eat it until you see freezer burn.

expired foods and health

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Never: Spouts

Sprouts are another caveat to the fresh produce rule. You may have noticed that things like bean sprouts are sold in airtight bags and alfalfa sprouts are sold in little boxes with moisture feeding the roots. Because they are grown and packaged in such moist environments, they can easily breed E. coli and should not be eaten past the expiration date.

 expired foods and health

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Okay: Packaged goods

Packaged goods, so long as they have not been opened, can often last long past the expiration date. Like frozen foods, these are another item that you can sort of eat indefinitely. Things like bags of chips or packaged pastries (we’re all familiar by now with the long shelf life of a Twinkie) should remain safe to eat long after the expiration date, if left unopened.

expired foods and health

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Never: soft cheese

Eat soft cheese like Brie and ricotta within 5 to 7 days of buying it, especially unpasteurized ones. This is one cheese on which cutting away signs of mold won’t do the trick: their damp nature makes them breeding grounds for bacteria.

expired foods and health

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Okay: hard cheese

You can actually eat hard cheese (like Cheddar, Gouda, and Colby) up to a month past its expiration date. Just cut away the moldy part. By nature, this cheese was already old because it was aged.

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