- You should always examine your food before eating it to check for signs of mould or strange smells.
- But in many cases, you won’t be able to see bacteria that could cause food poisoning or illness.
- When uncertain about whether or not a food is still safe to consume, experts say you’re probably better off erring on the side of caution.
Most of us have probably eaten foods knowing they’re past their expiration date. And sometimes we do it accidentally as it can be a bit tricky to determine which items are worth actually tossing, especially if food still seems OK or if the expiration date has rubbed off.
But in many cases, consuming food a day or two past its best by date isn’t the worst idea.Registered dietitian Jenn Fillenworth suggested that eating and drinking these items usually come with no set-backs whatsoever.
“Expiration dates on food can be quite confusing,” said Fillenworth “I myself have consumed many items past their expiration date with no consequences.”
However, that’s not to say that eating expired food is without risk. Eating expired foods or foods that are past their best-by date can expose your body to harmful bacteria that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and a fever.
To help break down exactly what happens when you eat expired food, we spoke to experts about some important things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to eat food past its expiration date
At best, nothing will occur when you eat food a few days after its use-by or best-by date
“There are three types of dates typically listed on food items: the best if used-by date, the sell-by date, and the use-by date,” Fillenworth said. All of these phrases indicate that the product should be sold or consumed by this particular date to ensure the best tasting and freshest product possible, she explained.
Fillenworth said that most of the time, and in the case of certain foods, nothing will happen when you eat food that is a little past the use-by or best-by date.
“The US Department of Agriculture states that canned and other shelf-stable foods, as well as frozen foods, will be safe to eat past these dates, however they may become stale or develop an off-flavour in the case of some items such as cereals,” she told INSIDER.
That being said, when consuming food past its suggested date, the food could lose some of its nutritional value.
“Fresher food is usually very nutritious,” said board-certified cardiologist Dr. Luiza Petre. Food past its prime window of freshness will see a decrease in key nutrients, she suggested, and the longer it sits, the less nutritious it may become.
At worst, you could develop food poisoning or be exposed to dangerous amounts of harmful bacteria
“If you do eat a food past the expiration date [and the food] is spoiled, you could develop symptoms of food poisoning,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Summer Yule, MS. The symptoms of foodborne illness can include fever, chills, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting.
“If you eat expired food, it may contain dangerous amounts of harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Bacteroides,” added Dr. Clare Morrison of MedExpress. She said this can result in abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, and perhaps even a fever.
Notably, some bacterial toxins found in expired food can be life-threatening. Dr. Morrison also told INSIDER that eating contaminated food also poses the risk of exposure to bacterial toxins, which damage the kidneys, possibly leading to a life-threatening situation.
So you’ll want to eat expired foods with caution, especially when it comes to foods that are you’re typically more at risk from getting food poisoning from. As per the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, this list includes foods like spinach and poultry.
In terms of checking for signs a food has expired, it’s especially important to pay attention to perishable foods
Keeping track of when you buy items could also help you to determine whether or not they are still fresh.
“Perishable foods like dairy, deli meats, and uncooked meats demand customers to adhere closely to their expiration dates, as there is a risk of bacterial growth that could lead to foodborne illnesses,” Dr. Petre said. Some of the most common types of food to monitor closely are deli meats, eggs, mixed greens, fresh berries, and soft cheese, she suggested.
Ultimately, always examine your food before eating it but keep in mind that harmful, illness-causing bacterias won’t be visible
“The best way to know if your food is still edible is to perform a visual exam. Check for any mould and smell the product,” said Fillenworth. She said you can also taste the product if you’re willing and if there is something off from the normal taste, stop eating it and toss it.
But if you’re not quite sure about whether or not you should still eat potentially expired food, err on the side of caution.
“The general rule is when in doubt, throw it out,” Yule told INSIDER. Bulging cans and foods that do not smell or look like they are supposed to need to go in the trash, she added.
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