How Important are Food Expiry Dates?

Think twice before you toss your pantry’s expired items.


No doubt you’ve reached to the back of your pantry to find that box of whole wheat pasta and see that the expiry date has passed. So much for your plan B dinner plan. As a busy runner it’s hard to keep track of what’s in your packaged food stockpile. And while you don’t want to waste food, the quality of your next run depends on whether you eat something spoiled.

And yes, you can read the food labels, but it can be hard to tell what the expiry dates and labels actually mean. It turns out that companies create most of these labels as a suggestion for maximum freshness and taste, rather than for food safety. What’s more? There is no standard definition for the dates listed on most of these labels – so yes, you may be tossing perfectly good carbs.

Generally, you can consume most packaged, shelf-stable foods for days, weeks or sometimes even months past the dates on the package. Often, you can determine if something is no good by its odour or appearance. Nuts stored in an open container, for example, may go bad prior to the “use by” date if they have been opened and exposed to air (which causes the oils to go rancid and makes the nuts smell bad). Spoilt nuts also lose key essential fats.

If you spot any bulging tins of food, throw it away immediately. There’s a good chance the contents have been infected with a bacteria that causes botulism.

When it comes to your fridge, you need to pay close attention to the labels. Double check your deli meats, unpasteurised dairy products, ready-to-eat refrigerated foods and partially cooked hot dogs due to the risk of listeria, a bacteria that can grow even while in a refrigerator.  If you’re seriously questioning an item in the fridge, it’s probably best to toss it.

Decode the Label

Sell By: Informs stores how to rotate their products, putting the older items up front so they can be sold first.
Use By: The date manufacturers identify as the peak quality of the product.
Best If Used By: The deadline for quality and flavour.

– Additional reporting by Debbie Fetter




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