Food Expiration Dates Are Not Set in Stone
When is the last time you looked into the back of your pantry? Chances are good you have grocery items lurking in the back that have long since “expired”. Did you know that the only foods that are required to have expiration dates by the federal government are infant formula and some baby food?
Different food producers use different statements. You will see things like “best if used by“, and “use before” or “sell by”. You will see a new one on beer: ‘born on”. The new notation on beer is because that product loses its freshness after about 90 days. It will not be unsafe to drink, merely not as fresh tasting.
The above notes on food are mostly an inventory control system for retailers. The foods do not go bad after those dates but the end user may notice slight differences in appearance, texture or flavor. It is unlikely that an expired can of beans, for example, will make you sick. When you open a can that has an expiration date, use your senses to tell you if the food is good. Smell it, look at it. When in doubt, throw it out.
An Amazing Story
Not long ago an old merchant ship was discovered under many feet of silt near Omaha, Nebraska. It had canned goods that were 100 years old. When a lab tested the food for contamination, they found no microbial contamination.
In conclusion, while you should pay attention to food expiration dates, you should make your determinations on a case by case basis. If you open a jar and it looks and smells icky, get rid of it. When canning items from your gardens or putting up preserves from the fresh berries you have this time of year, follow the instructions for proper sterilization.
Editor’s Note: We originally published this article in August 2013. We have edited it for accuracy, freshness and comprehensiveness.