It’s a great question that many of us don’t quite know the answer to.
You might see some reduced food in the supermarket or you never got round to eating something in the fridge but you don’t want it going to waste.
We all wonder ‘is expired food safe to eat?’ and give it a sniff, check the ingredients then the expiry date again…
I upload a lot of my #yellowsticker (reduced food) finds on Instagram and I often get asked what I do with the food if it’s about to expire or if it’s safe to consume past its expiration date.
Best before or use-by date?
When talking about an “expiration date”, what are you actually referring to – a BBE or use-by?
A Best Before End (BBE) date tells you that the food will taste it’s best before the date stated but it is safe to eat afterwards. A BBE date refers to food quality not safety. A use-by date is the one you need to pay closer attention to. Use-by dates reflect the safety of the food/drink and you shouldn’t consume it after this date.
Here’s a short list of food examples that would be perfectly safe to eat weeks, months and possibly years after their BBE date as long as they have been stored as the label suggests and still in their original packaging, unopened:
- Canned vegetables in brine or fruit in water
- Preserved (pickled or dried) goods in jars/tins
- Confectionery or snacks that don’t contain dairy
Is expired food safe to eat?
The short answer (SPOILER ALERT) is yes. In general, expired food is safe to eat but there are some exceptions that you need to consider.
It really depends what type of food it is, how it’s been prepared and when you plan on eating it. I’ve listed some food types below to help you out:
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Fresh fruit and vegetables are a great example of food that clearly shows when it’s no longer safe to consume. If it starts to discolour, smell funny or go mouldy then you should obviously not consume it. Until then, it’s usually fine to eat even if it’s gone a bit wrinkly.
Grains and pulses
Things like dried, uncooked pasta, rice, seeds and beans tend to have a BBE date, not a use-by. If they do have a use-by then it’s likely to be way into the future. These sorts of foods are fine to eat months and years past their BBE date. Just make sure to keep them in sealed containers or to reseal the packaging well.
Raw meat and fish often has a use-by date which is telling you it’s not safe to consume after this date. You can become seriously ill by eating gone-off meat so please pay attention to the use-by date! If you’re not sure that you’ll eat it in time, just freeze it before it expires.
However, it can be frozen on or before the use-by date so plan ahead and freeze it for the future. Scroll down to the ‘How to preserve food that’s about to go bad’ section of this blog post to learn more.
Similar to raw meat, cooked meat often has a use-by date too. The same applies as above, do not consume the food past its use-by date unless it has been frozen on or before that date.
Meat that’s been preserved such as beef jerky would be fine to eat a little while after its BBE date. I wouldn’t leave it a long while but up to a couple of weeks should be okay.
How to preserve food that’s about to go bad
Fruit and veg: Consider chopping it up and freezing it. Perfect for smoothies, stir frys and soups. If you’d rather somebody else made use of it then you can upload it onto an app called OLIO which allows somebody to come and collect your unwanted goods for free.
Grains and pulses: These can’t really be frozen uncooked so the simple solution is to cook them and then freeze them. You could incorporate the rice/pasta/pulses into meals such as chilli, spaghetti bolognase, pasta bakes – possibly with some meat that’s about to go expire too.
Meat: Freeze raw and cooked meat on or before its use-by date. Check the packaging to see if you can freeze it or cook the raw meat, let it cool then store it in a sealed container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can also freeze the meat you’ve cooked meat for 2-6 months.
Bread: Most bread products can be frozen. Loaves, sliced loaves, bagels, wraps, naan and the list goes on. Bread defrosts within a few minutes by leaving it out on the side or you could pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or defrost in the toaster.
Don’t just take my word for it! For food safety guidelines from FoodSafety.Gov, click here.
Food doesn’t suddenly go off the minute the clock strikes the next day. However it is at your discretion and your own risk as a consumer to follow the BBE or use-by dates. If you’re unsure, then feel free to send me a message on social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll let you know what I would do with it.