Some foods seem safe and edible despite being past their expiration dates, but there are some foods to watch out for. In this article we’re listing the foods you definitely should throw out when their time has come.
Why Food Expiration Dates Matter?
It may seem like giving foods a quick sniff is enough, but be warned that appearances can be deceiving. Expiration dates are there as a guide for when sight and smell are simply not enough. Beyond a certain date, food starts harboring dangerous microorganisms that can make you ill, so they’re there for a reason. Canned beans, dried pasta and things like salt may be good to eat for far longer than we give them credit. On the other hand, there are some expired foods you should give a wide berth.
Food expiration dates are commonly misunderstood – in fact, many of the dates you see on food packaging are not actually expiration dates, but best by dates. Here’s the difference:
Sell-by: The last date a shop can have the product on their shelves. May still be usable for a time after this.
Use-by or best if used by: The last date the product is at its best (not necessarily expired).
Manufacturing date or closed codes: no indication of quality or freshness.12
Which Expired Foods Should You Avoid?
Bacteria have a harder time colonising harder cheese, but soft cheeses contain more water, and therefore develop mould far sooner. The softer it is, the shorter the cheese lifespan – and you can’t just remove the offending part!
Though these are in glass, you’ve probably dipped utensils into the container, introducing bacteria. It’s a good idea to throw out anything that smells strange or has separated fluid floating on the top.
Raw, unprocessed juices are great for your health, but they’re best consumed as soon as possible. If not pasteurized, they have a very short shelf life and can be teeming with bacteria if left in the fridge for a few days.
Try to freeze meat soon after purchase if you don’t intend to use it immediately. Salmonella and E Coli are usually found on raw meat but can multiply the longer it hangs around. If a label gives a “sell by” date, it’s safe to assume you should eat it before this date, or at least freeze it. Because of its increased surface area, be especially cautious of ground beef, which is best eaten or frozen within just a day or two of purchase. Fish can be treated the same way – wrap in freezer paper or foil and store for up to 3 months in the freezer.
Leafy greens, herbs and sprouts
Salad greens and sprouts have a rather short shelf life, especially once the bag is opened, and can also carry harmful E Coli bacteria. While more robust vegetables like carrots and potatoes can last for ages, you’ll want to toss lettuce, sprouts and herbs if they’re past their expiration date – even if they seem OK.
Shellfish are especially vulnerable to contamination with bacteria. Raw shellfish like oysters, mussels, scallops and clams should go into the fridge as soon as possible and eaten within around 3 days. However, if you notice even the faintest bad odor, it’s best to toss these out, since shellfish food poisoning can be dangerous.
Soft berries like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are quite delicate and can deteriorate fast, even if refrigerated. It’s worth washing them thoroughly and checking them over to spot any that have spoiled. Eat within a few days, or, if you can’t and you’d like to save them, throw them in the freezer and put them in a smoothie later.
How Can I Preserve Food for Longer?
Spoiled food is a major cause of food wastage in the UK, but much of it is preventable with just a little forethought and planning. There are optimal ways to store various foods, but for the most part food will keep best when in an airtight, dry container. You could invest in a food dehydrator or try a vacuum sealer. Such sealers are especially good at preserving food since they expel air, making it harder for bacteria to flourish. Be warned that there are certain foods which should not be vacuum sealed, though – raw mushrooms and soft cheeses, for example, can actually develop mould faster when vacuum sealed.
Some vegetables are best blanched and then cooled before sealing, and it’s a good idea to freeze liquid before sealing them, to prevent spills. Done correctly, though, vacuum sealing has many advantages, eliminating food waste and allowing you to plan meals efficiently and safely. In the process, you’ll save money, especially if you’re buying in bulk and vacuum sealing the rest for later use.