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  • Are Expired Foods Dangerous?

    Posted on April 9th, 2019 admin No comments

    What foods are dangerous/toxic after their expiry date?

    We’ve had a hard time convincing our wasteful kids that a “best before” date is a guideline, not a “throw away before” date. Is it really all that dangerous to consume “expired” foods?

    Foods that are fresh, that have been handled frequently, and that are unprocessed are a bad bet. Meat, leafy vegetables and their juices, soft cheeses come readily to mind. They might not even make it to the “expiry” date. On the other hand, you know that things like apples and citrus will last a fair while on the counter, even longer in the fridge.

    Processing and Preservation

    Processed foods, frozen foods, treated foods, dried food, preserved foods — these will last considerably longer if properly stored in undamaged containers/packaging. Mankind has been storing food in various ways throughout our history — drying, salting, freezing, submerging — and mostly it works. The food lasts, and it doesn’t (usually) make us sick.

    Things like beef jerky and freeze-dried food in their original sealed pouches, dry macaroni, unopened crackers, dry cereal and the like can conceivably last months or even years past their recommended date. They don’t have enough moisture for harmful bacteria or molds to grow.

    Even mold on bread or hard cheese does not require discarding the food. Cut away the moldy parts, with a good margin for safety, and the rest is okay.

    Canned food, and sealed foods like jam or pickles, work by keeping nasty microbes out. Canned food is usually dated for two years, but provided the cans are not dented, leaking, rusty, or bulging, they should be good for two or three more years.

    You might have to put up with a stale taste or freezer burn, but those things are not necessarily dangerous.

    A case study: Freeze-dried food

    Tucked up in a cupboard in our cabin, which is unheated in the winter and can get pretty hot if unattended in summer, we had some freeze dried meals that we’d forgotten about. We took them down and found they were five years past their “best by” date, which was 1 year after purchase. So they had sat for six years through numerous freeze/thaw cycles.

    We cooked them according to package directions and they were fine. Well, as fine as dehydrated meals ever are.

    I reported this the the manufacturer, who said they were required by law to put that one-year expiry date. They had been in business for over 10 years and their first products were still okay and as far as they were concerned the things should be good for a century.

    But that’s a special case — a food specifically designed and packaged for longevity, with an artificially low expiry date.

    Food Roulette

    Conventional wisdom is “If in doubt, throw it out.” Millions of dollars of perfectly good food hits the landfills using that principle.

    Generally speaking, if it looks okay, and smells okay, and its package was intact, and it’s not too far past the expiry date, it’s probably okay. That’s a lot of ifs. Here’s one more: If you’re a competent adult, you can make a choice to play food roulette. Chances are pretty high that you’ll survive.

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