Food expiration dates: what do you need to know?

Food expiration dates: what do you need to know?


Commercially packaged food products often have a label with an expiration date. Manufacturers and shops sometimes use different wordings to communicate when it would be best to consume a certain food . Dates on food labels are usually not linked to food deterioration, but rather indicate to the consumer how long the food maintains its taste , texture and even the ability to make a dish unaltered (as happens with yeast). By understanding the expiration terms, it is thus possible to interpret in the best way the duration of the goodness of the foods stored in the refrigerator, in the pantry and even in the freezer. 

Expiration dates: how to behave

Refrigerated products often have expiration dates on the labels. Stores use this date to know when to remove products from shelves. However it is possible to eat food after the expiration date. For example, in general, dairy products are good for 3 or 4 days after their expiry date , if there are no visible alterations or swelling in the package (the classic case of the mozzarella bag , for example) or unpleasant odors when opening the package.
However, eating a certain food before its expiration date ensures better flavor and quality. Food won’t spoil after this date, but it may become dry or not taste as good. Food products that use pack dates include:

  • Canned products
  • Pasta and rice
  • Cracker
  • Cookies
  • Spices
  • Packaged milk and cheese
  • Egg
  • Packaged cured meats

Food can be good for months after the date with proper storage. Do not eat food from damaged packaging as it may have developed bacteria or bad storage.

When is the expiration date not mandatory? It is not mandatory to affix a label indicating the expiry date for fresh fruit and vegetables , bakery and pastry products , sugar and salt , vinegar and wine .

In the case of yeast, for example, the expiry date indicates the effectiveness of the product, and therefore the ability to leaven dough. Fresh brewer’s yeast , which is commercially available in the form of a block, has an expiration date that does not exceed 10 days. The dry one lasts longer, but when the sachet is opened, it should be used within a short time.

What changes after the expiration date?

Phrases such as “expires on” or “do not use after” or “best before” are used on labels indicating the expiration date.

  • “Consume preferably by” indicates the day beyond which the nutritional qualities of the food are no longer 100% guaranteed because they could progressively decrease. This type of deadline is also called Minimum Conservation Term (TMC)  but this does not mean that from that date onwards the specific food must be thrown away.
  • “Best before” or “Expires on” indicate the date by which the product must necessarily be consumed.

Expiration and storage of foods

Manufacturers and retailers use this wording on products with a long shelf life . It should be emphasized that quality does not coincide with the safety of a food, and therefore its hygienic conditions are not necessarily related to the variation of the organoleptic properties of a food product. 
Consumers often don’t understand expiration dates on food labels. Food that is still good or could be frozen for later consumption is thrown away and therefore wasted, when it could simply be stored in a better way. Certain foods, depending on how they are stored, can “exceed” their expiry date for safe and optimal consumption, also from a qualitative point of view:

  • For example, milk can be consumed even 4 days after opening, provided it is kept in the rear part of the refrigerator, where the temperature is generally colder;
  • Eggs are good for 3-5 days after their expiration date ;
  • Ground meat, beef , and poultry are safe if kept in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days after purchase . If you intend to cook them after this time, you need to freeze them immediately;
  • Rice or pasta are edible even for up to a year in the pantry . Once cooked and seasoned (pasta or risotto) they can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days in the refrigerator.
  • Canned fruit and legumes , once opened, should be consumed within a maximum of 4 days if stored in the refrigerator.

Did you know that…

If the food remains at room temperature for more than 2 hours, it can undergo changes and the formation of bacteria. After preparing a meal, store leftovers quickly to avoid contamination. Furthermore, it is essential to keep the kitchen worktop, and in general the surfaces where food is prepared, clean and free of harmful bacteria. Bacteria can’t grow in freezing temperatures, so freezing extends the shelf life of food. You can freeze meat, vegetables , bread and cheese. If you plan to freeze eggs, beat them first and store them in a sealed container.



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