What happens if you eat expired food?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question “what happens if you eat expired food?”. Moreover, we will discuss the health risks associated with consuming expired food, how you can determine if a food is still safe to eat after the expiration date and suggestions for preventing food poisoning.

What happens if you eat expired food?

Eating expired food can have different consequences on your health. Thus, it is not recommended to eat expired food at all. 

While it depends on the specific type of food and the length of time it has been expired, it is possible to summarize the major potential consequences as follows:

  • Foodborne Illness: Consuming expired food increases the risk of food poisoning or foodborne illnesses (1-2). 

Expired foods may contain harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria, which can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even more severe complications (3-4).

  • Digestive Issues: Expired food may have undergone chemical changes, leading to the production of toxins or the breakdown of nutrients. Eating such food can result in digestive problems like indigestion, bloating, gas, or stomach discomfort (1-3).
  • Reduced Nutritional Value: Over time, the nutritional content of food gradually deteriorates. Expired food may have lower levels of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients, potentially diminishing its nutritional value and depriving your body of necessary sustenance.
  • Allergic Reactions: In some cases, expired food can trigger allergic reactions. The expiration process may cause changes in the food’s composition, making it more likely to induce allergies or intolerances in sensitive individuals (5).

What are the common health risks associated with consuming expired food?

Consuming expired food can pose several health risks due to the potential growth of harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria, which can cause foodborne illnesses and gastrointestinal distress (4). 

These bacteria can multiply in expired food and lead to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even fever, posing a significant risk to your gastrointestinal system (3).

Expired dairy products, such as milk or cheese, can contain harmful bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause severe infections, especially in pregnant women, newborns, and individuals with weakened immune systems (6). 

Eating expired meat or poultry can expose you to dangerous bacteria like Clostridium perfringens, which can cause food poisoning symptoms like stomach cramps and diarrhea (7). 

Moreover, spoiled meat can also contain harmful pathogens like Campylobacter or Salmonella, which can lead to more severe gastrointestinal infections (8).

Expired canned goods can be a breeding ground for Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that produces a potent toxin causing botulism . Symptoms of botulism may include blurred vision, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, and even paralysis, posing a serious health risk (9).

Expired seafood, such as fish or shellfish, can contain high levels of histamine, a compound that can trigger an allergic reaction known as scombroid poisoning. Symptoms include flushing, sweating, headache, nausea, and vomiting (10).

Expired food, regardless of the type, can also lose its nutritional value over time. Vitamins and minerals may degrade, reducing the food’s nutrient content and potentially impacting your overall health (1).

It is crucial to prioritize food safety and discard any expired items to minimize the potential health hazards associated with their consumption. Remember that your safety comes first!

How can you determine if a food is still safe to eat after the expiration date?

While the expiration date is a helpful guideline, there are other signs and indicators you can look for to determine if a food is still safe to eat. 

First, check for any noticeable changes in appearance, such as mold growth, discoloration, or an off-putting texture, as these can indicate spoilage.

Next, rely on your sense of smell. If the food has a strong, unpleasant odor or a sour smell, it is likely spoiled. Trust your instincts and avoid consuming it if it smells off or foul.

Another important factor to consider is the texture of the food. If the texture appears slimy, mushy, or has a significant change from its original state, it is best to discard it, as these changes can indicate bacterial growth.

Taste can also be a determining factor. If you taste the food and notice a sour, rancid, or off-flavor, it is a clear indication that it has gone bad. Trust your taste buds and avoid consuming food that tastes abnormal. Be careful while tasting as you can allow the entrance of harmful microorganisms into your body!

Additionally, pay attention to the packaging. Bulging, leaking, or damaged packaging can suggest bacterial activity or potential contamination, making the food unsafe to eat.

All these indicators may vary depending on the type of food, so it is essential to educate yourself about specific signs of spoilage for different food categories, such as dairy, meat, or produce. The following table could help you with this:

Food TypeMajor Signs of Spoilage
Dairy (e.g., milk, cheese)Sour smell, mold growth, curdling, unusual texture, off-flavors.
Meat (e.g., beef, poultry)Foul odor, slimy or sticky texture, discoloration, off-flavors, excessive moisture, signs of mold.
Seafood (e.g., fish, shellfish)Strong fishy odor, ammonia-like smell, slimy texture, discolored or dull appearance, signs of mold.
Produce (e.g., fruits, vegetables)Mold growth, mushy or discolored spots, wrinkling, wilting, unpleasant odor.
Canned Goods (e.g., canned fruits, vegetables)Bulging or dented cans, leaking, rusting, hissing sounds upon opening, off-flavors or strange odors.
Bakery Items (e.g., bread, pastries)Mold growth, stale or dry texture, off-flavors, unusual appearance.
Grains (e.g., rice, pasta)Presence of pests or insects, mold growth, off-smell, discoloration.
Condiments (e.g., mayonnaise, ketchup)Off-smell, unusual color or texture, separation, mold growth.
Beverages (e.g., juice, soda)Off-taste or odor, fizzy or flat texture, mold growth, changes in color.
Frozen Foods (e.g., frozen vegetables, ice cream)Freezer burn (dry and discolored patches), ice crystals, changes in texture or flavor, presence of ice or frost.

Remember that these are general indicators, and specific signs may vary depending on the food and individual circumstances. 

You should always prioritize food safety and discard any items that show significant signs of spoilage or have exceeded their expiration dates.

What should you do if you accidentally consume expired food and experience symptoms of food poisoning?

If you accidentally consume expired food and experience symptoms of food poisoning, it is very important to follow the next steps to care for your health:

  • Firstly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids like water or electrolyte solutions to prevent dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhea (11).
  • Secondly, rest and allow your body to recover. Food poisoning can be physically exhausting, so it is crucial to give yourself time to heal and regain strength.
  • If the symptoms persist or worsen, you should seek medical attention immediately! Contact your healthcare provider or visit an urgent care center to receive proper evaluation and treatment.
  • In some cases, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications to alleviate specific symptoms, such as anti-diarrheal medications or antacids to relieve stomach discomfort.
  • During the recovery period, follow a bland and easily digestible diet. Stick to foods like plain rice, toast, boiled potatoes, or clear broth that are gentle on the stomach until your symptoms subside (11).
  • While recovering, it is very important to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling food, to prevent the spread of bacteria and potential reinfection (12).
  • Lastly, take this incident as a reminder to be vigilant about food safety and to carefully check expiration dates before consuming any food products in the future.

What steps can you take to minimize the risk of foodborne illness from expired food?

To minimize the risk of foodborne illness from expired food, you can follow the next recommendations:

  1. Check expiration dates: Always check the expiration dates on food products before purchasing or consuming them, and prioritize consuming foods before they expire.
  1. Practice proper storage: Ensure that perishable foods are stored at appropriate temperatures. Refrigerate foods promptly and maintain a refrigerator temperature below 40°F (4°C) to slow bacterial growth. Freeze foods that you won’t consume before the expiration date.
  1. Understand food labeling: Familiarize yourself with different food labels such as “sell-by,” “use-by,” and “best-by” dates. “Sell-by” dates indicate store shelf life, while “use-by” or “best-by” dates suggest the optimal quality of the product but not necessarily its safety.
  1. Inspect food before consumption: Thoroughly inspect the appearance, smell, and texture of food items before eating them. Discard any food that shows signs of spoilage, such as mold growth, unusual odors, or abnormal textures.
  1. Practice proper food handling: Adhere to safe food handling practices, including washing hands with soap and water before and after handling food, using separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods, and preventing cross-contamination.
  1. Follow storage guidelines: Pay attention to storage guidelines provided on food packaging, including refrigeration requirements and instructions for opening and consuming the product within a specified time frame.
  1. Use the “first in, first out” principle: Arrange food items in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer according to the “first in, first out” principle, ensuring that older items are used or discarded before newer ones.
  1. Educate yourself: Stay informed about food safety guidelines and common signs of spoilage for different types of food. Familiarize yourself with proper cooking temperatures, safe thawing practices, and appropriate storage times for various foods.


In this short article, we provided an answer to the question “what happens if you eat expired food?”. Moreover, we discussed the health risks associated with consuming expired food, how you can determine if a food is still safe to eat after the expiration date and suggestions for preventing food poisoning.


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