Most people don’t purposely risk getting intoxicated by eating expired foods, but almost all of us have experienced poisoning at some point. It’s so horrible that we don’t even want to talk about those sad 24 hours we spent on the toilet. But at the same time, Americans waste an immense amount of food each year, and part of that is the “expired” foods that are actually still perfectly fine to eat.
Food manufacturers put expiration dates on food to protect themselves in case someone gets sick after eating their product. But that’s not the only reason. Those dates that say “Better if consumed before” usually refer to the range in which the manufacturer thinks their food tastes best, not when the food becomes unsafe.
As consumers, we are taught to trust that the people who prepare our food take our safety to heart. And of course, that’s part of it. But often these companies simply want us to buy more of their products because we feel compelled to throw away food that is perfectly good.
When it comes to what is safe to eat, a little knowledge and common sense help a lot. For example, improper handling at any time can cause food to spoil before the indicated date. Let’s break down some general food safety rules you can use to decide whether or not to throw away expired foods, including some amazing foods that should always be thrown away before the expiration date.
How to know if your food is safe
Regardless of the expiration date, food can expire at any time depending on a number of factors. Improper refrigeration is a common culprit, and this could have happened long before you took the food home. It’s important to know the warning signs of deterioration so you can assess the safety of your food, even when you can’t know the entire journey from farm to table.
Stable foods on shelves are largely processed to last as long as possible. Frozen, canned, or dried products are likely to be fine for consumption after the expiration date. You simply need to check for signs of deterioration. Mold is one of the main ones, of course, as is a strong smell. Below are some specific guidelines for popular foods.
Fish should smell like fish, right? Actually, when the fish is really fresh, it will smell like the ocean. A slightly sweet and savory aroma is good.
But the more powerfully the fish smells, well, the more likely it is bad.
Meat that has developed a viscous coating or opalescent sheen has expired. That coating means that bacteria multiply happily.
However, meat that has turned slightly gray is not necessarily bad. In fact, the red hue we expect is often only present because the meat has been treated with ammonia.
If the can is bulging, it means that the contents have probably been infected with the bacteria responsible for the botulism.
Never open a bulky can! It is best if the dented cans are discarded as well because the dent could have caused a microscopic hole that allows oxygen to enter.
Potatoes develop a greenish tint under their skin when exposed to sunlight. This is not healthy to eat, but the potato can still be perfectly safe if you peel the green part.
You should also feel free to simply pull out any eye that has developed. When a potato has spoiled, the skin will be wrinkled and the texture fluffy. Rot spots may also appear.
Food in general
Fruits and vegetables will begin to develop wrinkled skin when they are in poor condition.
Crunchy products will become gummy. A viscous coating is also possible.
When food has developed what many of us call a “freeze burn,” it’s time to discard it. This indicates that the food was probably thawed at some point and then re-frozen, or that it was wrapped and improperly exposed to oxygen.
Even if you can eat it at this point without getting sick, the texture will be grainy and unpleasant.
Foods to avoid after expiration
Certain foods are more likely to deteriorate than others. The shelf life of fresh produce and meat is obviously much shorter than packaged foods, such as rice, cereals, french fries and anything dry, canned or frozen.
Below are some foods that should always be checked for signs of deterioration, even if the expiration date has not yet passed.
Fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are healthy and delicious sweets, but they are also prone to something called cyclospora.
This parasite begins to make a soft, moldy berry quickly after being picked up, especially once it rinses and remains moist for a while. It’s best to freeze the berries if you can’t eat them within a day or two of buying them.
Soft cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk, which means the potential of Listeria or E. coli. Harder cheeses that have developed mold stains can usually still be eaten if the bad parts are simply cut.
But toxins in soft cheeses penetrate all the way through the product, even if you can’t see the spores. Eat soft cheeses within 5 to 7 days of purchase.
Brussels sprouts are grown in a warm, humid environment, making them susceptible to bacteria such as E. coli. and Salmonella. They are known to spoil before their expiration date.
If you have a compromised immune system, or are pregnant, it is best to avoid Brussels Sprouts altogether. Healthy people will want to learn how to grow their own cabbages and eat them directly after cutting them.
Green leafy vegetables
Whether kept whole or pre-cut, green leafy vegetables spend a lot of time wet after harvest.
Surely you have experienced the fog that rains on the products in the grocery store; this is important to prevent certain vegetables from dry out, but it also reduces the shelf life of food. To avoid E. coli, never eat vegetables that have become viscous, regardless of their expiration date.
So what if you eat expired food? There is no answer to this question. Honestly, it could be that nothing happens to you, as the food is still perfectly good. But foods that actually spoil will cause a lot of painful symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. People who have a compromised immune system or are pregnant have an increased risk and death can occur in some cases of food poisoning.
As long as you see the signs of deterioration and prefer caution when it comes to fresh foods, you don’t have to worry too much about the expiration date. Because, anyway, this one won’t tell you if the food has been handled properly.