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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