Should You Eat Food after the Expiration Date?

Today’s question to get your morning rolling is, Should you eat food after the expiration date?

This is an argument that my wife and I often get into when the food in the refrigerator goes past the date marked on the package. My wife’s automatic reaction is to look at the date and throw out anything if the date has passed. I, on the other hand, will smell and look at it and if it appears to still be good, go ahead and consume it.

This, of course, is met with and lecture that she will not have any sympathy for me when I come down with food poisoning and need to be rushed to the hospital. I can’t say I’m much better as I give her the lecture that it’s a waste of good money to throw out food just because the date on the package has expired and the food is still obviously good.

I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. Although I don’t go out of my way to be as extreme as this guy, it shows that people throw away a lot of food that is still edible. What is your take? Is it worth the risk to save and not waste the food, or is it better to play it safe and not wind up getting sick and ending up in the doctor’s office due to spoiled food?

Please share your own experiences on this topic as a wide variety of views and thoughts are helpful to everyone. If there is one thing that I have learned about personal finances from all of you is that there are always exceptions to the rule and differing circumstances can mean completely different solutions. If you have a blog and you have written about this topic in the past, feel free to link to your writing (although a short summary would be helpful). If you have recently read a good article on this topic, please links and share in the comments.

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25 Responses to Should You Eat Food after the Expiration Date?

  1. greenday says:

    I have to agree with your wife. It’s stupid to tempt fate. All it takes is one trip to the hospital and you have spent more than you have ever saved. It’s not worth the risk.

  2. Traciatim says:

    I agree with you. If the food is obviously good then I eat it. If it even has the slightest hint of a smell or visual that suggests it’s ‘off’ then in the composter/trash.

  3. dan says:

    Aren’t the dates on the packaging when the stores must sell the food by? And aren’t they supposed to put in some time for you to eat the food after that? In that case, if you throw it away just because of the date, then it’s a waste.

  4. vlad says:

    Okay, I’m more than willing to eat food that smells and looks good if it’s after the eat by date, but that mouldy bread in the article you linked to was disgusting. There are limits and that was way passed the limit.

  5. Annie Jones says:

    I’m with YOU on this, and agree with Dan. The labels almost always say SELL BY or BEST BY. Food, if stored properly, almost always are safe well beyond those dates.

  6. Nic says:

    My motto is “Waste not,want not”, so I’ll eat it if it smells and looks good. The dates are usually a ‘sell by’ date and really, it’s just a suggestion.

  7. gina says:

    I think you need to be very careful with food. If it is past it’s use date, then you need to cook it extra well to kill any bacteria that may be on it. If you have ever had food poisoning, it’s not a happy time at all. I would tend to be on the safe rather than sorry side of things.

  8. Karen says:

    I remember once reading an article in a government food journal that stated that most items are still safe for a bit following the expiration date. The government is just concerned about safety. The same journal stated that most people could take double the amount of vitamins but to be safe they list the lowest, safest amount. That is just sharing smart info with people. Hey I remember dating a bachelor who had stuff in the frig that was 10 yrs. old. If he was desperate for mustard he used it. The guy is still living and breathing. Smoking will kill him not 10 yr.old mustard. For me I lead such a sraight, stable and often boring life that eating the string cheese that is expired by a few days is how I live on the edge

  9. gerald says:

    I live for free on the food that the stores throw away. It’s still good, but they have to take it off their shelves so I dumpster dive for it and get about 75% of my food for free. It’s still in its packaging and is no different than if you took it off a shelf.

    Now before you turn you nose up at me, realise that the $300,000 house I own was paid for in full because I didn’t have to pay for most of my food. If it’s going to end up in a landfill, I see no reason to not take and eat it.

    So here’s the question. Would you eat food from a dumpster if doing so would give you a paid for $300,000 house? Doesn’t seem quite as disgusting now, does it?

  10. Jon says:

    As a former chef, I can tell you that it really depends on what type of food you’re dealing with, but most grocery items, if kept properly refrigerated, won’t grow dangerous levels of bacteria the day after it “expires”.

    I don’t promote dumpster diving, necessarily, but I have eaten quite a bit of food that was expired and donated to food banks by local groceries.

    For liability purposes, most groceries prefer to err on the side of caution when dating goods.

  11. Amy says:

    My husband refuses to eat anything if it’s past the date, but as long as it looks & smells good, it doesn’t bother me.

  12. Karen says:

    For Amy–Try changing the date. For the person who gets the food from the dumpster you got the program down. When I worked in nonprofit agencies we had the opportunity to pick up the day old items from grocery stores. We had so much food that we needed several vans. The store was so thankful as they did not have to take it to the dumpster. I think it also probably felt good to know it was being eaten instead of thrown away. If we did not come and get it by 10:00 on sun. morning it went in the dumpster.

    I also know that if a wedding is held and there is any extra food it too goes in the dumpster. This food was also picked up by staff at the residential facility. Last month while flying I watched the airline employees as they brought back the food trays. I was waiting for the bathroom and for about five minutes I watched as they just dumped the entire tray in the garbage. There were packaged items such as granola bars, cookies, nuts, breads, jelly etc… that were never opened. Now why does that happen in a world where people are starving?

    Hey keep dumpster diving. I am so fortunate to have a local dump. The elderly man who manages the place watches for antiques and valuable items for me. I cannot begin to tell you how many old, awesome, valuable dishes, clothes, oil lanterns, desks, bed frames etc… I have gotten there. A chandelier(super old) was my best find. Hey I get in there and pick through things so I can live in a $275,000 home with 40 acres of remote land worth probably millions. Better yet I don’t work outside the home. The dump diving is a small sacrifice for having this dream environment to live in and being able to stay home and work on my artistic goals. Not many people have that.. Gerald you might want to come to the dump with me hey.

  13. AJ says:

    One quick comment – would you eat food that was obviously bad even though it was well before the use by date? Of course not! So why would you throw away food that was technically expired but perfectly fine? Just because someone put a use by date on a product doesn’t automatically make it become bad on that day.

  14. baselle says:

    I give my food the look and smell test, but I note the due dates of food for another important reason … if you are tossing an item because the due date dates from the time of Ramses … that’s a hint to get a smaller size or not buy it as often.

  15. GrimJack says:

    My mother loves moldy cheese – she eats fuzzy cheddar and so on. She is 82 and French; they age their cheese in caves so that it gets infected on purpose.

  16. GrimJack says:

    Just to fan the flames a little, some food poisoning is not from the organism itself but from its waste products and thus won’t be detoxified by cooking. Fortunately, these toxins are rare and are usually anaerobic – commonly caused by bad canning or organics preserved in oil (like garlic in olive oil or home-made mayonnaise).

  17. Topwaystosave says:

    I take the date into consideration. One day or two past and it looks and smells okay then why waste. Anything longer than that though I get rid of.

    I try and pay attention to the experiations dates too. If something is close to going bad then that’s what we’re eating that day.

    I also agree with Baselle. If you keep getting rid of the same expired foods, take that as a clue to buy less and reduce your waste.

  18. Don says:

    My adult daughter and I had this discussion recently. She was shocked to learn that expiration dates stamped on grocery items is a relatively new thing. For thousands of years people had to do their own evaluation of the food they ate. Why should it be any different now?
    If dairy and meat products are outdated, I’d be very careful. As for dry goods (sugar, flour, cereal, etc.), there’s not much risk.

  19. whitehall says:

    I shop at OUTLET grociers…I save a bundle esp when there are teens in the house. Where can you shop at a regular grocier and get frozen pork roast for $3.00, 20 oz cokes 3/$1.00, 2 lbs of bagged salad for .50, 6lbs of Meow Mix cat food food for $1.49 South Beach frozen meals for .99 just to name a few!

  20. foodsleuth says:

    We just wrote an article about this topic. An interesting stat is that the US wastes 40 of all food produced. Clearly not all of this is due to throwing away things because a label date has past BUT labeling confusion is certainly a culprit in this waste. First, there are many types of food dating labels, MOST do not affect the “safety” of the food. You need to learn what the dates mean and which are critical. Educate yourself to keep yourself so you don’t waste food and your money.

  21. Lynn says:

    I was told many years ago that milk stayed fresh for about 5 to 7 days past its expiration date and I’ve used that as my guide ever since. Of course I smell it first before drinking but usually it makes it at least that long.

    I’ve eaten eggs as old as two months past their dates and not gotten sick from them. 🙂 Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t stand the idea of throwing them out.

  22. Ashley says:

    Just a note: cheese is basically mold itself, so it’s not getting an infection from a cave to make it green or furry. It occurs naturally. The cave, however, may well speed up the process.

  23. Malcolm says:

    I’ve made some custard with some M%S custard powder that was 11 years past its use-by date. Likewise, I’ve got some Lyles Golden Syrup with a 2001 date. All perfectly OK. It just depends on the kind of food. The polar explorers had to take food that lasted for months. Processed food that was produced before refrigeration was meant to last for years.

  24. Jensee says:

    I had to correct my sister in-law this morning. She’s always saying…”This is the last day that we can use this because of the expiration date.” I’m like ‘heck no’…she will throw away perfectly good bacon, eggs, milk or canned goods! They are dirt poor and they aren’t footing the ‘food bill’, yet, they are throwing away perfectly good food! Now, I know where my nephews get their fear of expiration dates from. I showed them though…they would always open a new carton of milk before the ‘1 day expired milk’ was used up (even though it still smelled and tasted fine.)…so…I switched the milks, pouring the expired date milk into the new date milk jug and vise versa. They drank the milk perfectly fine and said it tasted perfect also… I waited until a day later, when they had finished the jug and then I told them that they had consumed the ‘older’ milk. Thery were a bit mad, but it did teach them a lesson…1 day past the expiration date won’t kill you! Now, I could understand it ‘IF’ the milk smelled bad or tasted funny, but it DIDN’T…and even then the milk can be used for baking purpses or pancakes…just the way we use buttermilk.

  25. Felidire says:

    I’m eating a sandwich I made with an unopened packet of salami that expired 7 days ago. I dunno, personally i’ve never had to go to the hospital from eating expired food but i’ve had food poisoning a few times (Always from something that someone else made for me.) Health cover is free in Auzzie so it wouldn’t bother me anyway…

    We freeze a tonn of things, cheese, milk, bread, ect.. so to me it’s more about common sense and looking at the food, rather than going by the expiry date.

    If bread shows a slight color difference, feels slightly harder than normal, smells funny, ect.. then you don’t eat it, simple. =P

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