Expiration Dates Debunked

There’s a good amount of discussion on whether expiration dates are bogus. I’m sure you can guess where I stand on the topic.

My dismissal of most expiration dates stems from personal experience and knowing how much caution is built into those dates. Still, it’s nice to have the backing of some hard science mixed with journalistic experimentation, as in this piece from the (UK) Daily Mail.

In the experiment, journalist Tom Rawstorne bought identical food items, then tested each one on the date of purchase, the day indicated by the date stamp, a week after the expiry of the date stamp, and two weeks after it. A food safety expert and an independent lab also tested the items. Of all the items, raw chicken was the only food that was questionable a week after its supposed expiration date.

Thanks to its scientific rigor, the article is useful. Yet, it has just the right amount of sensationalism (‘I ate a meal comprised of items two weeks past their “use-by” or “best before” dates and I’m still alive’). Plus, there’s fun art.

The piece even contains its own mini story arc–the transformation of Rawstorne from a complete “best before” truster to someone who concludes:

These results took me by surprise. I’m not suggesting we all live on a diet of old food, but these tests show that if you’re careful, using your taste and smell sensibly to assess food, there really is no need to be paranoid about date stamps.

Rawstorne also pushes for more common sense and less blind trust in expiration dates. His evidence: food date labels didn’t exist in Britain before 1980.

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  1. Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    What’s the furthest you’ve gone out on an expiration date and still ate it?

    You can definitely realize most food is expired just by smelling.

  2. Posted May 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Great question, Mike! I’m gonna throw that out there on Twitter.

    I don’t remember the specifics, but I think I’ve had yogurt something like a month after its best before date…

  3. Posted May 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve eaten yogurt three months after the last date of sale on the container. There’s a post on my blog about”Expired yogurt” wherein I document eating yogurt 2 months past due. One of the containers was disgusting, the other fine. Other things I’ve eaten beyond the expiry date:

    Ramen noodles: 12 months past
    Condensed soup: 2 years past
    Bacon: 3 months past date (unopened cryovac package)
    Eggs: 3 weeks past date
    Packaged bar cheese: 8 months past date

    When we moved into our current house, it came with a refrigerator, which was still running. In the meat drawer we found a unopened package of Oscar Mayer bacon that had “expired” ten years previously. The package wasn’t swollen, and the bacon within hadn’t discolored. I wanted to open it and try cooking it, but my wife would have none of it, and threw it away.

  4. Posted May 31, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what the expiration date is but my husband buys a big bottle of Tapatio and it takes him 3 years to finish it.

  5. Mimi
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I have a deal with my daughter-in-law: She can throw away any food whose expiration date is in the last decade. She has found quite a few. I can’t think of any specific items I’ve eaten that were ten years old but I’m sure I used that salad dressing and ate those pickles with no ill effect. Not only did “best by” dates not exist until the 1980′s, humanity existed for centuries with no refrigeration! Amazing.

  6. Posted June 3, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I’ve recently eaten a frozen fish portion which was around 10 years past it’s Best Before date. Perfectly fine and delicious when cooked!

  7. Posted January 30, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Longest I’ve gone is probably frozen chicken wings, 6 years old and just a touch of freezer burn, but once I marinated them and grilled ‘em, my drunk football buddies scarfed ‘em down and asked for more!

    Posted March 14, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    You’d be shocked at the amount of customers who will actively *FIND items that are mildly past there “best before” date, and bring it to the till to tell you[Even if they don't want that item]

    A “BEST BEFORE” date stamp, is mearly the suggestion of when the product is at it’s best, and stores[in the UK at least] are legally entitled to sell right up to a month after the date of that stamp.

    Although it goes against my own “mantra teachings” [AKA brainwashing] I am now finding myself telling customers that an item with a BEST BEFORE 12/12/12 [for example] is NOT out of date on 13/12/12 but WOULD BE on 11/01/13. [in the eyes of legality ]

  9. Posted June 3, 2013 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    “Sorry, sorry!Is that I ain’t good, the in the mind is too worried.Like, I descend to do some shopping, the words doing are too late afraid of getting into trouble, a short while I braised soup and waited soup like, you also drink a point and otherly bring a health center.”The language finishes, don’t wait Yang Yi to say as well what, he soon closed a door to leave…………

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