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Can you eat food after its expiry date?

You know you've asked yourself this question more than once

By Salva Mubarak  July 12th, 2017

You tell us that you’ve never eaten something past its expiry date and we’ll make room for your growing nose.

pinocchio nose

Much like stalking people on Instagram, this is something almost all of humanity is guilty of doing. But should we really be guilty? Nutritionist Tripti Gupta says you don’t.

While she condemns processed food (“It’s a big health risk in the long run”), she knows that it’s not realistic to eliminate it entirely from day-to-day consumption.  According to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), it’s mandatory for the food manufacturers to include the date of expiry on the product, but it’s not always an indication of whether the food has gone bad or not. “The date is just a guideline,” says Tripti.

Before you hoard your pantry with processed food like there’s no tomorrow, read on these guidelines to ensure you don’t end up eating spoilt food.

Everything you need to know about food expiration dates

What's the difference between ‘expiry’, ‘use by’ and 'best before’?

Essentially they all indicate the predicted date until when the product is at its peak quality. “As per Indian standards, the expiry date has to be mentioned, but it’s not specified how it should be written.” According to Tripti, Indian manufacturers always use ‘expiry date’ instead of ‘use by’ or ‘best before’. The difference is that when it says ‘expiry date’, it indicates the end of the stated storage period of the product. ‘Best before’ or ‘use by’ mean that the product might not taste or feel the same way after the date has passed.

Do I have to throw out my food if it’s past the expiry date?

Turns out, you don’t. “There are several factors that can alter the actual expiration date of the product,” says Tripti. Storage can play an important role in deciding the longevity of the product. “Take cheese spread, for instance. If it hasn’t been stored in proper conditions, before or after purchase, then there’s a good chance that it will go bad way before its expiry date,” she says, adding, “But if it’s been kept in a chiller and has been preserved at a low temperature, then there’s no reason why you can’t continue to use it past the date of expiry."

According to FSSAI, foods that have crossed their date of expiry (mentioned on the packaging) cannot be sold legally in the market. You can, however, use them if you’ve already purchased them.

“Of course it should not be well past its expiry date,” cautions Tripti, “In some packaged drinks, there might be added flavours that mask the bitterness after it has gone bad. So you would go on to drink it and possibly face the side effects of the expired product.” While you can happily ignore the expiry date mentioned on oft-used food items (like milk, eggs, cheese and bread), you need to be careful with items that are not commonly used, like energy drinks or fruit juices.

So how do I know if my food has gone bad or not?

“The first test is sight,” says Tripti. When you see that the food does not look the same as when you’ve purchased it, then it means that something’s wrong. “If the colour has changed, or the packaging looks misshapen (in the cases of canned food), then it indicates that the food is not fit for use,” she says. If looking at the food doesn’t tell you anything, then you can check the texture and taste. While in the case of eggs, there’s an easy test to determine whether you should throw them out or not (place the egg in a bowl of water, if it sinks that means it’s good, if it floats, that means it’s gone bad), it’s not always easy to tell with food. If you’re still in doubt, it’s best to not use it at all. 

How can I reduce food wastage?

The only way you can avoid food wastage is by being smart while buying the product. According to the CSR Journal, we end up throwing out 20 percent of all the food we buy every week. It’s important to check the condition of the packaging, smell and texture of the product before you purchase it. “The kind of packaging of the product is extremely important in knowing whether the product will be good for long or not. Oil, for instance, does not go rancid for a long time if it’s stored in a dark container. Oil in transparent or glass containers tends to spoil faster because of the light penetrating from outside,” she says. You can also see if there are any alternate uses of food products that have gone bad. For instance, you can use milk that has gone sour in place of buttermilk, yoghurt or sour cream.