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Thread: Food Expiration Dates Don't Have Much Science Behind Them

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    Food Expiration Dates Don't Have Much Science Behind Them

    Certainly food goes bad if stored too long or incorrectly. But are food expiration dates accurate? From my experience the common advice about storing chicken seems to be set so low (outside of freezing) as to be about profits more so than food safety.

    Food Expiration Dates Don't Have Much Science Behind Them

    Avoiding unseen food hazards is the reason people often check the dates on food packaging. And printed with the month and year is often one of a dizzying array of phrases: “best by,” “use by,” “best if used before,” “best if used by,” “guaranteed fresh until,” “freeze by” and even a “born on” label applied to some beer.


    People think of them as expiration dates, or the date at which a food should go in the trash. But the dates have little to do with when food expires, or becomes less safe to eat. I am a microbiologist and public health researcher, and I have used molecular epidemiology to study the spread of bacteria in food. A more science-based product dating system could make it easier for people to differentiate foods they can safely eat from those that could be hazardous.


    Costly confusion


    The United States Department of Agriculture reports that in 2020 the average American household spent 12% of its income on food. But a lot of food is simply thrown away, despite being perfectly safe to eat. The USDA Economic Research Center reports that nearly 31% of all available food is never consumed. Historically high food prices make the problem of waste seem all the more alarming.


    The current food labeling system may be to blame for much of the waste. The FDA reports consumer confusion around product dating labels is likely responsible for around 20% of the food wasted in the home, costing an estimated US$161 billion per year.

    ***


    Infant formula is the only food product with a “use by” date that is both government regulated and scientifically determined. It is routinely lab tested for contamination. But infant formula also undergoes nutrition tests to determine how long it take the nutrients - particularly protein – to break down. To prevent malnutrition in babies, the “use by” date on baby formula indicates when it’s no longer nutritious.
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    I avoid much of this by not buying significantly more than I'm likely to eat in 4-5 days.

    The labels are confusing. When in doubt, I throw it out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mister D View Post
    I avoid much of this by not buying significantly more than I'm likely to eat in 4-5 days.

    The labels are confusing. When in doubt, I throw it out.
    I buy for 7 days. I have gotten into the habit of using the last of the fresh veggies on Thr/Fri (toss into red beans and rice) and restocking Saturdays. I usually eat up my chicken for the week by Wed. (bought on Sat.) So I don't freeze it, even though the claim is that the chicken only last two days in the fridge.
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    I love how they say you can leave the turkey out for a maximum of 2 hours after cooking it and dropping to 140 degrees. Basically they are saying to serve it quick and throw it away.

    In my college days I would eat a hamburger that I found between the cushions if it smelled and looked okay. I made it so far.
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    I have to admit - I am a datie. If it's on the date or after: it's gone. Which is odd - considering what I ate in college.
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    A while back I found a can of pickled beets with an expiration date from eight years before. I was curious - and craving pickled beets - so I opened the can. The contents appeared and smelled normal. I even heated them up, which I have found brings out the "bad vapors" if something has gone over. I was about to go ahead and eat them, but in the end I chickened out. Normally, unless it's something like dairy, I blow off the dating thing if it's only a couple of months, but eight years is just a bit outside my comfort zone - especially for something I can replace for 89 cents.
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    Quote Originally Posted by carolina73 View Post
    I love how they say you can leave the turkey out for a maximum of 2 hours after cooking it and dropping to 140 degrees. Basically they are saying to serve it quick and throw it away.
    In my college days I would eat a hamburger that I found between the cushions if it smelled and looked okay. I made it so far.
    I've done the same. May taste stale, but it wasn't green or fuzzy.
    "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." -- James Madison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Standing Wolf View Post
    A while back I found a can of pickled beets with an expiration date from eight years before. I was curious - and craving pickled beets - so I opened the can. The contents appeared and smelled normal. I even heated them up, which I have found brings out the "bad vapors" if something has gone over. I was about to go ahead and eat them, but in the end I chickened out. Normally, unless it's something like dairy, I blow off the dating thing if it's only a couple of months, but eight years is just a bit outside my comfort zone - especially for something I can replace for 89 cents.
    They are pickled. If stored properly they would likely last longer than 8 years.
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    I usually look online to see how good an item is past its expiration or best used by date. Often the item is still good. My one issue is that I make soups and there have been a few times where it was too hot to put in the fridge and I would forget and not put it in the fridge before going to sleep. They still smelled perfectly fine the next morning, but out of caution I reluctantly toss it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Just AnotherPerson View Post
    I usually look online to see how good an item is past its expiration or best used by date. Often the item is still good. My one issue is that I make soups and there have been a few times where it was too hot to put in the fridge and I would forget and not put it in the fridge before going to sleep. They still smelled perfectly fine the next morning, but out of caution I reluctantly toss it.
    Depending on the ingredients, I would toss likely. I have in the past.
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