Can you eat meat after the use-by date?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, “Can you eat meat after the use-by date?”. We will also elaborate on the shelf life of meat, what does it mean by use-by date and how the use-by date varies among different regional states.

Can you eat meat after the use-by date?

Yes, you eat meat after the use-by date until you do not notice any smell or visible spoilage in the meat.

What does use by date mean?

The “Use-by” date is the last date the manufacturer suggests consuming a particular food depending on quality, not safety. So, you can still eat the product past the use-by date.

USDA estimates that 30 percent of the food supply is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer levels. One source of food waste arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about the meaning of dates displayed on the label. To reduce consumer confusion and wasted food, FSIS recommends that food manufacturers and retailers that apply product dating use a “Best if Used By” date. Research shows that this phrase conveys to consumers that the product will be of best quality if used by the calendar date shown. Foods not exhibiting signs of spoilage should be wholesome and may be sold, purchased, donated and consumed beyond the labeled “Best if Used By” (1).

However, you should be careful about the safety of the product and if you sense any unusual happening in the product (like bad odor or mold growth) then avoid the consumption of that food product.

Use by date is not mandatory to consider. You could test the food after use-by date just by smelling, if it feels good then it is all okay to consume. 

Just like if you take a vegetable or fruit for consumption from your own garden it has no expiry dates. In the same way, the fruits or veggies which are purchased commercially do not have a use-by date.

You just have to use your senses for testing the edibles, if they are consumable or not.

How do use-by dates vary among different regions?

As there are different people in different areas. So, their perception also varies such as some people consider these use-by dates as hard and fast rules to follow. USDA, an organization of the USA, claims that use-by dates are of no worth.

Studies show different attitudes facing expired food. Some people (58%) use to throw away sub-optimal products due only to their expiration date, determined by the “use-by” or “best-before” date, even though they don’t show any sign of degradation. This leads to high levels of food wasting in the United States. Globally, 1.3 billion tons of food is lost per annum and represents a missed opportunity to feed the more than 820 million people (3).

On the other hand, it is mandatory for some of the edibles, for instance, the use-by-date regulation is required for the infant formulas.

What do the different dates of edibles mean?

According to the USDA, there are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for open dating in the United States (1). 

The “Use by” date denotes the time by which a product should be used. It is based on the quality of the product, not on its safety.

The “Best if used by” date also denotes the quality of edibles but it is also clear from its name that food is edible even after this date but to some extent, food quality will be compromised.

A “Sell-by” date is a date that directly relates to the retailer. It indicates the date by which the product should be sold or removed from the inventory.

How long should we consider the food safe after its use-by date?

The shelf life of any food product depends upon the handling and care of the product. If you want to save the product for longer or want to enhance its shelf life, you will have to handle the product in a safe way. 

You should observe the instructions of the product which are labeled on them. For instance, determine whether the product needs to be kept in a dry or cool place or in a refrigerator. 

Safe time consumption for some of the products that can be consumed even if the use-by date has passed:

  • In the case of ground meat and poultry, you can eat the product for 1 to 2 days after the use-by date has passed.
  • Beef can be eaten for 3 to 5 days even if the use-by date has passed.
  • Eggs can be consumed for 3 to 5 weeks which is enough period after the use-by date.

Just make sure to keep an eye on the visible signs of spoilage. Spoilage can occur differently, depending on many factors. Intrinsic factors (the initial content of psychrotrophic bacteria present on the surface of the meat, the water activity, the pH value and the content of nutrients) and extrinsic factors (storage temperature and availability of oxygen) both play a role in fresh meat (2).

The growth of bacteria that cause food spoilage is influenced by a large number of factors, which can be divided into 4 groups: 

1) intrinsic factors, which are an expression of the physical and chemical properties of the foodstuffs themselves (e.g. water activity, content of nutrients, the structure of the foodstuff) 

2) extrinsic factors, i.e. storage conditions (e.g. storage temperature, the composition of the atmosphere) 

3) processing factors (physical or chemical methods of treating foodstuffs during processing, e.g. cooking) 

4) implicit factors, which are a reflection of the synergistic or antagonistic effects between bacteria 

How to determine the safety of a food product?

To determine the safety of a food product, bring your nose near to the product for smelling or sensing the product. 

If you stored the chicken or poultry in the freezer but according to the use-by date the time is over, even 2 more days have passed, you can determine its safety if you sense any unpleasant smell which directly indicates the meat has spoiled and it needs to be discarded right away. 

It is also recommended to store the products, such as milk or meat, in their original packaging where labels are attached. So that you would be able to count the days after the sell-by date for safe consumption of food.

Spoilage of meat can be detected by the senses. Bacteria start to attack the meat muscle by consuming the glucose. When glucose ceases to be available, however, the bacteria begin to attack amino acids and a large quantity of ammonia and a lesser amount of organic sulfides and amines causing an unpleasant smell are released. Sensory deviations in meat (off-odor) begin to appear when the bacterial population reaches a density of around 108 CFU cm-2. Unpleasant smell and slime are signs of high microbial contamination (2).

The nutritional content of food

As the use by date passes until it gives an unpleasant smell the food’s nutritional content is considered good, but the nutritional contents of a food product are greatly reduced when the quality of that product has deteriorated. 

Deterioration is the result of bacterial activity and growth in the food. Bacteria degrades the nutrients in the food in order to grow and the result is the release of metabolites, ammonia, amines and sulfides, which are the characteristic off-odors of spoiled meat. For this reason, the protein content of a degraded meat is lower than that of fresh meat (2).

Other FAQs about Meat that you may be interested in.

Can you eat llama meat?

What is slimy lunch meat?

Is beyond meat really vegan?

How to preserve meat in the wild

Conclusion 

In this brief guide, we have provided an answer to the question, “Can you eat meat after the use-by date?”. We have also elaborated on the shelf life of meat, what does it mean by use-by date and how the use-by date varies among different regional states.

References

  1. Food Product Dating. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2019.
  2. Kameník, Josef. The microbiology of meat spoilage: a review. Maso Int J Food Sci Technol, 2013, 1-9.
  3. Kavanaugh, Melissa, and Jennifer J. Quinlan. Consumer knowledge and behaviors regarding food date labels and food waste. Food Cont, 2020, 115, 107285.