Money Saving Tip – Expiration Dates Are Just a Guideline

fred meyer milk sale

A couple of months, weeks, days, ahem, awhile ago, I was listening to an NPR article on food expiration dates.  Did you know there is a company {National Food Lab} entirely devoted to testing foods and its expiration?  They do all sorts of crazy things, like heat it up to 90 degrees, and test it {read:  eat it} loooong after the supposed expiration date.  Could you imagine having that job–tasting potentially rotten food?  Eeek!

The article went on to suggest that expiration dates on food are just a guideline on the life of given products.  In fact, companies include the expiration dates on their products just to preserve their integrity and reputation for quality.  It is not a hard and fast date.  Their suggestion?  Smell it.  If it smells “off”, toss it.  Taste it.  If it tastes “off”, toss it.  {I suppose next they’ll be suggesting that we check the weather by looking out the window? Ha!}

campbell's soup cans

The article mentioned that canned food in particular holds up to the test of time way longer than the date stamped on the bottom. {Researchers tasted a 40 year old bite of previously unopened canned corn, and found it tasted fine.  Though, after analysis it had lost some of its nutritional value.  Okay, now even I wouldn’t do that.

The real threat to food is salmonella, bacteria, and E. Coli.  They can be present in food that is improperly canned, stored, or washed from day one.

albertsons shopping trip mavis

As I listened to the article, I thought to myself, how much food have I wasted by tossing it just because of the date on the package?!   Worse, how much money have I wasted?

What do YOU think? Do you throw away food simply because the date stamped on the package says the food is expired? Or do you think it’s okay to eat food past it’s expiration date?

~ Mavis

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  1. Sophie says

    I cleaned out and organized our stockpile last week and went through this same thought process. For cereal and other boxed goods, I feel like the flavor can change or be stale after a certain point. Those we try to eat within a few months of the exp date. If we have too much and know we won’t get through it by then, we will donate it to the rescue mission. They will take most items up to two years after the exp date. Canned goods seem to last far beyond the exp date. One thing that always seems to be off to me very close to the exp date is peanut butter and we wont eat that much longer after the exp date since it just tastes weird to me. Could just be me though!!

  2. Tanya says

    I don’t worry about the dates too much except on things like meat. Even then I go a few days passed without tossing if it still smells OK.

  3. Heather says

    I am a rule follower by nature, except when it comes to those little dates…I totally break the rules and keep stuff longer although my hubby would rather toss the day before! :)
    I will say that I did get the skeeves though when we were at a friends house last year (2012) and they served up that whip-cream-in-a-can stuff with the date of 2008!!! I about died…I wasn’t using it, and it was already used up by the guests when I saw it as I was near the end of the dessert line! They just laughed it off…I about hurled my dinner!

  4. says

    Do you know about Put in the food item you have a question about and it pops up with a reasonable safety timeline. Want your yogurt, cottage cheese or sour cream to last longer? Store it upside down. No idea why this works, but when I participated in a food reclamation program (gleaning) we got a lot of dairy, and stored gobs of yogurt upside down in the fridge and it worked great!

  5. Paula Perez says

    A few years ago, when my husband was unemployed for a year and a half after retiring from the Navy, we were on a TIGHT budget. I had a part time job at a health food store. Their policy was to put food on sale the month before the pull date, then pull it when the date said. The employees could take food from the pulled items. We ate a LOT of past-date cereals, mixes, salad dressings, etc. plus I took home the produce cuttings box “for the rabbit”. Ahem. We ate very well and it sure helped us get by. I never found any food that was pulled at its date that actually was spoiled!

  6. says

    Nope, never toss just because of a date. It is a bit of a battle with some family members who have trouble with ignoring the dates, though their trouble is only on dairy products (milk, cottage cheese, sour cream) and because of getting some bad milk once so understandable. Canned/boxed stuff only gets tossed because of the date when the date is a few years old. If it hadn’t been used by then, it probably wasn’t going to be used anyways.

  7. Lynn says

    Totally ignore the dates! It’s such a scam. They just want you to buy more because you got rid of the “old”. And quite frankly those dates are SO way off…..just covering their “butts” in the off chance of being sued. Just my personal opinion. Food tastes great and is just as healthy long past their dates. The “If it smells “off”, toss it.” rule is what we go buy. ; )

    • says

      I’m with Lynn on this one! I call it the “sniff test”.

      I might even go a bit further than most, though, as I have been known to scrape mold off of things like sour cream or cheeses and then eat the rest. Hasn’t killed us yet!

  8. Margie says

    I will use some food, usually canned, a little while past the expiration date, but I’m really careful about fresh dairy and milk.

    What I have a question about is home canned food. I’ll use up to three years old, then I toss it. I cleaned years worth of decades old home canned food off my shelves this fall–some so old that the rubber on the jars lids was either hard and in pieces, or so gummy the lids just slid off. I insisted–my husband would have kept that stuff even longer. I got to the point where I needed my shelves and jars because I started canning again. It’s not like I was using that food–years ago it quit having any flavor and was so soft. So how long do you keep home canned food? Veggies and fruits-I freeze meat and most soups now. I still can homemade tomato soup.

    • says

      As long as the seal is still good and it smells fine, the food shouldn’t hurt you, no matter how old it is…it’s just a matter of whether or not you still like the flavor or texture. I have a jar of pickles in the fridge right now that I canned in 2007. They taste fine but they are a bit softer than they used to be.

  9. says

    I keep canned goods long past the expiration date, and throw the can out only if it is bulging or otherwise looks abnormal. I have had yogurt and other dairy products such as cream cheese last for MONTHS beyond the expiration date, just as long as I kept them in the refrigerator and unopened.

  10. says

    I so need my husband to read this! He freaks if a carton of milk is even on day past the date stamped on it. Drives me nuts. I used up some heavy cream the other day that I’d bought for Thanksgiving– the date said December 30th. It smelled fine & tasted damned good in the soup I made. I just kept it hidden in the fridge so the expiration date gestapo couldn’t find it!

  11. Tina says

    Great timing as I just found some “best by Sept 2012″ green beans in the pantry. I was going to toss em but I think they are ok. Also have some from Dec 2012. Need to get green beans on the menu!

  12. Carol says

    I agree with most everyone here. If the food smells fine I will taste it and determine from there if it gets used or tossed. What about dented cans that don’t seem to have any seals leaking? Seems my grocery store can’t put undented cans on its shelves anymore. My mother would never buy a dented can and stock people used to get into trouble if a customer found any…..sorry, I’m rambling! Good conversation, Mavis!

  13. says

    When I was a kid (I’m 46) there weren’t expiration dates on anything except maybe milk. I think the idea of expiration dates on canned goods and such has made a LOT of extra money for the food industry from people buying replacements for things that they’ve thrown away that were perfectly fine.

  14. Pat says

    Jackie Clay says home canned goods can last longer than 10 years. I always cringe when I hear people throwing out their canned goods in just a few years….and my hubby made me do that several years back. My mom has always kept her canned goods for many years. If something is soft when she opens it, she will throw that out tho.

    Jackie talks about expiration dates also in various Q&As on her blog…

  15. Becka says

    I have noticed that things with artificial sweeteners (like soda and instant pudding) can lose their “sweet” taste if it is too far beyond the expiration date.

    • Sophie says

      That is so true!!! Lots of items with aspartame are nasty once they are expired!! We are big diet coke drinkers and within weeks of being expired diet coke tastes like dirt because the sweetener goes rancid. That is def one thing that we always use before expiration!

  16. Diana says

    I read an article not long ago that noted expired dry boxed foods -brownie mix, cake mix etc. it can grow mold spores that you can’t see or taste, but if you have asthma it can be fatal. My daughter has asthma so i figure better safe than sorry.

    • . says

      fatal mold spores? sorry that sounds like some serious hype. sorry if that was true there’d be a lot of dead people who eat old food all the time. just not true.

  17. Rachel says

    For me it depends what it is – the comments above about the one day past ‘use by’ are how I feel. For fresh stuff -milk, dairy, veggies, etc, I find that what the date says is roughly how long it does last in my fridge and with something like milk or cream I smell and if in doubt I toss it – sometimes even before the date if it has been opened and doesn’t smell right. It is rare that milk lasts to the date in our house anyway.
    For dry foods I think it is less of an issue because it is less likely to make you sick (with the exception of mouldy bread) – stale flour, cereals, spices or pasta is not going to hurt you, it just might not taste as great. All that said, if I found something that was more than a year past it’s date I think I would toss it because it is obviously quite old – and something I don’t use!

  18. Random Person Named Melissa says

    My mother keeps half her eggs outside the fridge. She told me once that they can stay good up to three weeks outside of it if it’s just kept out of the sun and/or heat. She had two rules connected to them though… 1) no eating them after two weeks even if they’re good up to three … 2) never use them in a dish where they don’t get entirely cooked (aka sunny side up eggs).

    Personally I never became sick by eating them and I lived (and still live) in Florida without airconditioning.

    Thought I’d share.

    • Random Person Named Melissa says

      Forgot to mention the eggs are always the store bought ones that’s been in the fridge before…

      • Sophie says

        I’ve always been wary of eggs not being in the fridge and I have no clue why. My MIL works for an egg packer and will leave eggs out of the fridge, outside (in the warm weather), wherever and my husbands family always ate them. Sometimes they had never been in the fridge and were 4-6 weeks old. I understand that they don’t usually get refrigerated until they leave the packing facility so are out for a day or two, but I always feel like eggs should be in the fridge, lol!!! I have no idea why this is such an issue with me, it just weirds me out! Even though we get enough eggs that we would never have to buy them, I buy farm fresh eggs from a coworker or from the store if we run out because I just cant eat the eggs we get from her. And I will add that they never got sick from them either, just like you mentioned.

    • Nichole says

      I’ve cooked and eaten eggs months after use by date without any problems. they just shouldn’t be a different color.

      • Heather T. says

        I get our eggs from my dad or the Amish and never worry about when they are going to expire since they don’t have a date, you just crack them in a different bowl and then add them to whatever you are making. And the Amish don’t keep eggs in a fridge, maybe in a cool basement in the summer, last time I bought 18 dozen and not a singe one went bad in the 2 months it took to use them.

    • says

      I read an article recently that said farm-fresh eggs don’t need to be refrigerated because they have some sort of natural coating that helps protect them from bacteria. The eggs you buy in the store have been washed, which could wash some of that coating off and cause them not to last as long. If you’re worried about your eggs, put them in a bowl of water. If they are bad, they will float.

  19. Maria says

    i am from Peru and the whole country never refrigerates their eggs. (well maybe some people that i dont know). I grow up eating eggs, butter and cheese that were not in the refrigerator lol

  20. Nichole says

    I walk around all the time now with mild stomach aches from eating “overripe” bargain bin vegetables and fruits thanks to your free vegetable “chicken scratch” post. I use stilltasty dot com to double check packaged food’s dates and I definitely push it on lots of things, kinda as a joke. I like to test my boundaries. If it smells scary or has a pink hue, I throw it away. follow your nose?

  21. Nichole says

    I like to pretend I’m living in the olden times before fridges, or like in frontier house or something. it’s kinda funny to me. I definitely push it. I’m “training” my stomach ha ha

  22. Derek says

    We r part of the “sniff testers” n will eat it if it smells ok.

    N as Nichole said, we r “training” our stomachs. Knock on wood, but our family is pretty healthy.

  23. says

    my mom lived through the depression and raised us on a dime. so yeah – i was raised on expired items. my kids don’t always see it the same.
    what has me laughing at times, is when one of my grand kids call and ask if the sour cream or cheese is bad because it expired a couple days ago. i just remind them that it was rotten when they put in on the shelf. just what do they think could be wrong with it now? no mold – it’s fine. cut the mold off the cheese, it is now ‘sharper cheese’.
    love this post. keepem’ coming.

    • Heather T. says

      Love the cheese comment, I thought I was one of the few people who just cuts off the mold, hahaha, my dad worked at a cheese plant years ago, and I know how they make cheese/ yogurt/ sour cream being past date, won’t hurt most of these things, I eat yogurt weeks past date as long as it looks good.

  24. Heather T. says

    I LOVE this Mavis, I found out a little while back that my BIL and a sisters boyfriend were in my basement for some reason (not sure why) and were actually checking my stockpile down there mostly canned foods, dressings things like that and were making comments about the dates and that they thought they were feeling sick since the mayo was bast date! Ha how funny since there are 6 people in my family and we have never been sick from food. Its common sense if it smells/looks bad then don’t eat it, these are the same two guys and their families who think nothing of going to Mcdonalds, Taco Bell or other such places, hmmm more people get sick from fast food than any thing you can find in my basement! Wow did that make me mad when I found out about it. And if you notice most say best by or use by or better by, so really that doesn’t mead oh my gosh its bad, throw it out or you will die it means use your common sense.

  25. Laura VAn Horn says

    Yep, I have some yogurt in the fridge from Feb 2012 that we are currently eating. Looks and tastes fine. Though, I hadn’t planned this, just had waaaaaaay too much free yogurt from last spring and forgot it was tucked way back in the fridge on a low shelf.

    We are all still alive, no stomach aches either!

  26. Eddie says

    Hello Mavis, A friend gave us some canned milk the date expired about three years ago. The color is darker but it taste fine. I also have canned peaches that are expired, but taste great . I always do a taste test though!

  27. Eddie says

    Instead of letting my vegetables go to waste, I put them in the freezer, i wash them and peel the tomatoes. Thank you for all of your posts Happy gardening Mavis

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