No one likes throwing perfectly good food out, but at the same time, no one likes being stuck on the toilet for three days, using up three Halloweens’ worth of toilet paper. Here’s our quick guide to working out whether or not to eat your food past the expiry date.
Is it the use-by or best before date?
There are two types of expiration dates on food in Australia: the “Use By” date and the “Best Before” date.
Best Before means the date after which the product will probably start changing in texture, appearance or taste. As long as it’s been stored properly, it should be safe to eat past this date, but it’s probably past its peak. Food can be sold after the Best Before date, provided it’s still safe to eat.
Use By means the date by which you should consume the food. This is an indication of food safety. Of course, this date is on the conservative side for legal reasons and
Note: Use By dates in the USA have a different meaning.
Some food doesn’t have a label – these foods keep very well and are unlikely to go bad before you get around to eating it.
I’m still going to eat it. How do I minimise my chances of getting sick?
That’s brave! Here’s how to improve your chances of staying healthy:
Make sure it’s been kept properly since you bought it. If it’s refrigerated, make sure it stayed cool between the shop and your house, and that it hasn’t been left out at room temperature for too long. If it’s frozen, don’t defrost and refreeze it.
Cook it thoroughly. Cooking it will kill a lot of bacteria, but some toxins produced by food bacteria stay active after cooking.
Be sensible. The more past the use-by date it is, the more likely you are to get sick. It’s possible that there’s an unsafe level of bacteria living on your food, even if it looks OK. Sometimes it’s better to just let go.
My favourite site for reassuring myself it’s OK is Still Tasty – they have a massive food database for checking on your food. You’ll be surprised at the shelf lives of some food!