Is it safe to eat past the use-by date?
In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question “is it safe to eat past the use-by date?”. In addition we will discuss the health risk of eating food beyond its use-by date and different ways to check out the freshness of a food item.
Is it safe to eat past the use-by date?
No, it is not safe to eat any food item past the use-by date. Never eat, cook, or freeze food that has passed the expiry date on the label.
Even though it seems to be in excellent condition and has been stored properly, the food may nevertheless be harmful if consumed.
You should know that food items that pass their use-by date could be contaminated with harmful microorganisms and their toxins that can make you very sick (1-5).
Many products, such as meat and milk, may be frozen before they expire, so plan ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
What are the risks of consuming food beyond its use-by date?
Consuming food beyond its use-by date can expose your health to several risks, such as bacterial infections (1,3), intoxication toxins (4-5), food poisoning (6-7), and allergies (2).
As food approaches and exceeds its use-by date, the chances of bacterial growth increase significantly.
Certain bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, can cause foodborne illnesses, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and in severe cases, even hospitalization (3, 7-10).
Beyond the use-by date, the quality of food may decline, resulting in changes in texture, taste, and appearance.
Foods can become rancid, develop mold, or undergo other forms of spoilage, rendering them unappetizing and potentially harmful if consumed. You should be aware that molds can produce harmful mycotoxins that can make you very sick (11-12).
Some foods, especially those containing fats, oils, and certain additives, may undergo chemical changes over time. These changes can lead to the formation of harmful substances or the degradation of nutrients, making the food less nutritious and potentially harmful to consume (13).
For individuals with food allergies or intolerances, consuming food past its use-by date may be particularly risky (14). Over time, allergenic proteins in certain foods can degrade, making it more challenging to identify potential allergens and increasing the risk of an allergic reaction (2).
You should know that in some cases, the specific risks associated with consuming food beyond its use-by date may be difficult to determine.
Different factors such as storage conditions, packaging integrity, and the presence of preservatives can influence the safety of the food. Without proper testing or evaluation, it is challenging to ascertain the exact risks associated with consuming expired food.
Consequently, to ensure food safety, it is generally recommended to adhere to the use-by dates provided by manufacturers and practice proper food storage and handling techniques (15).
Finally, remember that: when in doubt, it is best to discard food that is past its use-by date to avoid potential health hazards!
How can you determine if food is still safe to eat after the use-by date?
Determining the safety of food after its use-by date requires careful assessment. Here, we summarize some main steps that could help you to evaluate the condition of your food:
- Conduct a visual check: Inspect the food for any signs of spoilage, such as mold, unusual color, or off-putting odor. If you notice any of these indications, it is advisable to discard the food.
- Consider the type of food: Different foods have varying shelf lives. Non-perishable items like canned goods or dry products may remain safe beyond their use-by dates, while fresh and perishable items should be treated with more caution.
- Assess the packaging: Examine the packaging for any signs of damage, leaks, or bloating. Damaged packaging increases the risk of contamination, so it is better to discard such items.
- Trust your senses: Utilize your sense of smell and taste to assess the food. If it has an unusual odor or tastes off, it is safer to avoid consuming it.
- Differentiate between use-by and best before dates: Understand that the use-by date primarily indicates food safety, while the best before date relates to the quality and taste.
Food items past their best before dates may still be safe to eat but might have diminished quality.
- Consult reliable sources: Refer to credible food safety resources (supported with scientific evidence and references like this blog) or government guidelines for specific recommendations on the safety of particular food items beyond their use-by dates.
Remember that these recommendations are just general advice, so your own judgment is crucial. When in doubt, it is better to discard the food to minimize potential health risks. Your health comes first!
What is the maximum amount of time that food may be consumed?
First you should know that the maximum amount of time that your food may be consumed safely will vary depending on several factors, including:
- Type of food: Different types of food have varying shelf lives. Perishable items such as fresh meat, seafood, dairy products, and deli meats have shorter safe consumption periods compared to non-perishable items like canned goods, dried foods, and certain pantry staples.
- Storage conditions: Proper storage is crucial for maintaining food safety and extending its shelf life. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and exposure to light can impact food quality and safety.
Following recommended storage instructions, such as refrigerating perishable items promptly, can help prolong their safe consumption period.
- Packaging and preservation methods: The type of packaging and preservation methods used for food can influence its shelf life.
Vacuum-sealed packaging, airtight containers, and proper sealing can help preserve food freshness and extend its safe consumption time.
- Processing and preparation: The way food is processed, prepared, and cooked can also affect its safety and shelf life.
Proper cooking techniques, such as reaching the recommended internal temperature for meat, poultry, and seafood, can eliminate harmful bacteria and ensure safe consumption (16).
- Additional preservatives or additives: Some food products may contain preservatives or additives that help extend their shelf life.
These additives can inhibit bacterial growth and maintain food safety for a longer period.
- Individual health conditions: Certain individuals, such as those with weakened immune systems or specific health conditions, may be more susceptible to foodborne illnesses (14).
For these individuals, it is generally recommended to follow stricter guidelines and consume food within shorter timeframes to minimize the risk of foodborne pathogens.
Here you can find some examples of the shelf life of different foods:
Please be aware the values in the table are estimated and can vary depending on multiple factors as mentioned before.
|Storage Times After Purchase|
|Poultry||1 or 2 days|
|Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb||3 to 5 days|
|Ground Meat and Ground Poultry||1 or 2 days|
|Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings)||1 or 2 days|
|Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating||5 to 7 days|
|Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked||1 or 2 days|
|Eggs||3 to 5 weeks|
In this short article, we provided an answer to the question “is it safe to eat past the use-by date?”. In addition we discussed the health risk of eating food beyond its use-by date and different ways to check out the freshness of a food item.
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