Expiration dates on foods used to be an unbreakable rule for me. I’d start getting queasy as soon as the date drew near. I’d suspiciously sniff the milk a few days out. I’d look at cheese for any sign of fuzz. I’d examine bread lest I ingest a mystery mold. So the idea of a market that sells expired food? The old me would have been hyperventilating. But I’ve become older and wiser — and much more relaxed about the “use by” and “sell by” dates on perishable foods.
Whereas before, I’d toss foods at the date — guaranteed — now I’m actually doing some sleuthing to find out if that food is actually still fine to eat. And usually? It is. Which is why a new market is set to open next year in a Boston neighborhood that will prepare and repackage expired food at deep discounts. Apparently a whopping 90 percent of Americans throw out food prematurely because of confusion about expiration date labeling, leading to a mind-boggling 40 percent of the U.S. food supply being tossed before being consumed. This wasteful tossing of perfectly good food is one of the reasons this project, called the Daily Table, is happening in Boston. And this method of using some of this 40 percent is a way to avoid some of that waste, while providing people with better-for-you options than a fast-food lunch.
Knowing the sheer amount of food that is wasted makes me really want to crack down on my family’s contribution. Sure, there are the times when the strawberries really are overcome by mold, but then there are the times when the can of green beans is a month “expired” or eggs are a few days past the sell-by date. So what do those dates really mean? Read on.
5 Fun Facts About Expired Food
1. You likely worry most about getting sick from eating expired food, but the dates actually aren’t related to the risk of food poisoning or foodborne illness.
2. The “sell by” date is the last day the item is at its highest level of quality, but it will still be edible for some time after.
3. Foods don’t necessarily become inedible once a date hits. For un-refrigerated foods, there may be no difference in taste or quality.
4. The eggsellent egg can be consumed three to five weeks after purchase, even if the “use by” date has come and gone. Dried goods? You’ll likely detect almost no difference in quality even a year later.
5. None of the dates mean a food is unsafe to eat. So breathe easier when that date hits — and breathe in to see if something smells off. If not, eat up!
Weirdly, even with my expiration date paranoia, I was always very relaxed when it came to eggs, so at least I was doing something right. (Does this mean the shelf life of Twinkies is not a concern either?) Bottom line? Use the dates as guidelines, not hard and fast rules, and if you’re chronically concerned, bone up on some basic food rules. If the yogurt still tastes fine and the cheese still looks mold-free, it’s likely perfectly fine, so put it in your belly, rather than the trash can!
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