Dear Jill: I don’t recall seeing anything addressing expired food. A few weeks ago, I went through the pantry and tossed a significant amount of expired food. However, I attempted to give it to a shelter first but they said no. The range of expired food varied from 10-plus years to two. If you could provide some insight on this, it would be appreciated. Thank you. — Fred S.
Dear Jill: Can you talk about how to know if expired food is still safe to eat? With the COVID-19 virus, we have been cleaning out our cabinets and found some things that I would like to still eat. — Charlie M.
Any time I discuss whether food is safe to eat after the date printed on the packaging, I receive email from food banks and food pantries urging me to remind people that they cannot accept expired food. One pantry staffer emailed this colorful statement: “Please, please tell people: ‘If you don’t want it, neither do we!’” My local food pantry has asked that people not bring in food that is less than 30 days out from the date either as they may not have time to distribute it.
There is no food pantry that will accept food two years past the printed date, and certainly not 10 years beyond the date! Food pantries do not want the potential liability of someone getting sick after consuming expired food. That said, while it cannot be donated, it doesn’t mean you cannot consume it yourself.
It’s important to keep in mind that many dates on food items are a “Best by” date and not a “Do not eat after” date. Many foods are fine to consume after the date. There are several websites that use U.S. Department of Agriculture data to help determine how long a product is safe to consume beyond its printed date. I like StillTasty.com and EatByDate.com. Both sites have search features where you can enter the kind of food you’re curious about, or you can browse by different food categories.
For example, a box of dry pasta is typically safe to consume three years after the printed date on the packaging. Canned soups can be consumed three to five years after the date as long as the cans are undamaged.
Fresh eggs kept in the refrigerator can be eaten four to five weeks after the date, and yogurt can be consumed up to two weeks after the printed date.
As many of us have been using this extra time at home to clean out cabinets and consume the foods we currently have on hand at home, I’m happy to share a couple of the interesting expired things we’ve eaten recently. I’m still alive and well and writing my column, so I can confess to you that a few weeks ago, we found a sealed bag of nacho-favored corn chips that had fallen behind a pantry drawer — and we ate them. The date on the bag? March 12, 2019.
We were partially motivated by the History Channel’s television show, “Eating History,” where the hosts eat decades-old food and comment on how often-unpalatable it is. We’d just watched an episode where they ate corn chips from 1979! After seeing that, eating year-old nacho chips didn’t seem so bad. We were shocked that the chips were still crunchy and tasted fine.
We also found a sealed bag of Colby cheese cubes dated April 27, 2019, that fell behind one of our refrigerator’s drawers. While nearly a year old, the cheese was fine as well. The food databases note that chunk cheeses are typically safe to eat six months past the date if there is no mold present. We examined the cheese, took a taste, and then ate the rest.
Use your best judgment if you’re considering consuming something that’s particularly old. If it smells or tastes “off,” don’t continue eating it. It’s not worth risking your own health over a product that likely cost a few dollars or less.