How Bad Is It Really to Eat Expired Food? | Livestrong.com (2022)

How Bad Is It Really to Eat Expired Food? | Livestrong.com (1)

As long as it has been handled and stored properly, most food is OK to be eaten past its expiration date.

Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

How Bad Is It Really? sets the record straight on all the habits and behaviors you’ve heard might be unhealthy.

We've all checked the date listed on a food item to determine if it was still "good," whether while deep-cleaning the refrigerator or rummaging through the pantry for a snack. And if that date was in the past, well, you probably tossed the item into the garbage.

Advertisement

Video of the Day

But what would have happened if you ignored the date and ate it anyway? Is it really ​that​ bad to eat expired food?

(Video) Food Safety, How Long Food is Good for After Expiration Date

About Those Food Expiration Dates

Those "sell by," "use by" and "best if used by" dates listed on the foods in your fridge and on your pantry shelves might seem ironclad, but you shouldn't give them ​too​ much weight.

Advertisement

"People put a lot of stock into the date on the product and sometimes throw things away without even tasting it based on the date, which doesn't correspond to any scientifically informed food safety guidance," Elizabeth Balkan, director of food waste at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Advertisement

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), those dates primarily refer to food quality rather than food safety. And they're not set by the government, either. Rather, it's the manufacturers themselves who set the dates based on when they think the product will be at its peak — a practice that's been around since the 1970s, per the NRDC.

Advertisement

There's only one food category that the government regulates: infant formula. And that's because the nutrients start to decline after a certain amount of time on the shelf, not because the formula is spoiled or likely to cause illness, according to the NRDC.

How Bad Is It Really to Eat Expired Food? | Livestrong.com (3)

You're not likely to get sick from expired food that still smells and tastes fine.

Image Credit: Kentaroo Tryman/Maskot/GettyImages

(Video) Why I eat "expired" food

So, What Are the Risks of Eating Expired Food?

Still, most people toss expired food rather than consuming it to avoid getting sick. And while food poisoning is a common occurrence (affecting one in six Americans each year, according to the USDA), it's not likely to happen as a result of eating expired food.

"You're not going to get sick by tasting it, and you're probably not going to get sick by consuming it," Balkan says.

Most cases of food poisoning occur after eating something that's contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as salmonella or listeria. These bacteria don't magically appear once that expiration date passes, though — they're likely present at the time you purchase the item, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

"By and large what we find is that if a food has gone bad, you will be able to smell or taste that it's rotten and that it could be harmful to you. It's not going to taste good, so you're going to stop eating it."

Listeria, for instance, initiates on the farm, Balkan says. "You've purchased lettuce with listeria," she explains. "It's not developing listeria from being in your fridge too long."

Food poisoning can also be the result of eating a food that's been mishandled, such as if someone with contaminated hands touches the food before it lands on your plate or if an egg salad sandwich is left out in the hot sun all day, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Despite what most Americans think, it's the amount of time a food spends in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit that's the main indicator of a food's safety, not the amount of time the product's been stored, according to the NRDC.

Balkan adds that botulism — a type of food poisoning caused by bacteria from improperly sterilized canned foods — also poses a risk, though she says it's extremely rare and is more of a threat if the canned item comes from someone's DIY efforts.

Learn how to fill your plate with healthy, nutrient-dense foods by logging your meals on the MyPlate app. Download now to fine-tune your diet today!

That's not to say you should eat expired food on the regular, though. Even if it doesn't make you sick, it may not taste as good as it would have if you'd eaten it closer to the purchase date.

Consider a weird smell, texture or color a sign that it's best to toss the food rather than eat it, according to the USDA.

"By and large what we find is that if a food has gone bad, you will be able to smell or taste that it's rotten and that it could be harmful to you," Balkan says. "It's not going to taste good, so you're going to stop eating it."

Foods That Might Be OK After the "Best by" Date

1. Pasteurized milk, cheese and yogurt:​ In general, these foods won't go bad since harmful bacteria are killed during the pasteurization process, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Will it smell bad and seem unappetizing? Maybe — but it won't necessarily make you sick.

(Video) Is it OK to Eat Expired Canned Foods? How Long Do They Last? | CDT NEWS

2. Non-perishable foods:​ These are also generally OK to consume past the date listed on the package so long as they've been handled properly, according to the University of Wyoming.

"With the caveat that you should always use your senses and let your tastebuds guide your decision-making, I would say that for anything that's shelf-stable — things that are processed and have preservatives in them, like cereal and bread — almost certainly the date on the package means very little in terms of food safety," Balkan says. "It might mean nothing."

How Bad Is It Really to Eat Expired Food? | Livestrong.com (4)

Deli meat is one food you probably don't want to eat past the expiration date.

Image Credit: kajakiki/E+/GettyImages

Foods Not to Eat After the Expiration Date

Still, it's a good idea to abide by the expiration dates of some foods.

Balkan recommends using more caution for things that are perishable, and Dana Gunders, the interim executive director of ReFED, a nonprofit committed to reducing U.S. food waste, suggests heeding the expiration dates of foods that doctors tell pregnant women to avoid, including:

  • Deli meat
  • Ready-to-eat foods thataren't heated (like pre-made sandwiches)
  • Raw eggs
  • Unpasteurized dairyproducts

Related Reading

The FIFO Food Storage Method Can Help You Keep Food Fresher (and Actually Use It All)

Tips on Food Safety

(Video) Verify: Is food still safe to eat past the expiration date? We asked the experts.

There's one big catch to all of this: In order for the food to be OK to eat past its expiration date, it must have been handled and stored properly.

Here are five tips to abide by to ensure food safety:

1. Store food safely.​ Keep raw meat, poultry and fish separate from other foods in order to prevent cross-contamination, advises the Mayo Clinic.

2. Handle it properly.Clean hands and surfaces can reduce your risk of developing a foodborne illness.

3. Cook the item to safe temperatures.​ According to the Mayo Clinic, harmful bacteria is killed when a food is cooked thoroughly. FoodSafety.gov outlines that poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, beef and pork to 145 degrees and egg dishes to 160 degrees.

4. Maximize the shelf life of the product.​ Store pantry items between 50 and 70 degrees, ideally in metal, glass or plastic containers. Keep perishable refrigerator products, such as meat and eggs, in the coldest section of the fridge to maximize freshness.

5. Track how long the item's been stored.FoodSafety.org has a handy chart outlining how long each type of food can be stored in a refrigerator or freezer. Most items last up to five days in the refrigerator (at 40 degrees or below) and 1 month to a year in the freezer (0 degrees or below).

Related Reading

Clever Food Storage Tricks to Make Your Groceries Last Longer (Even Avocados!)

So, How Bad Is It Really to Eat Expired Food?

Not nearly as bad as you might think.

Generally, eating a food past its expiration date doesn't pose a major risk to you because dates on food items indicate food quality rather than food safety.

Of course, that doesn't mean you want to make a habit out of eating expired foods (especially not deli meat and unpasteurized dairy products), but consider it no big deal if you dig into crackers or hummus with a date on the label that's in the past, especially if you've followed the food safety tips above.

Related Reading

  • How Bad Is It Really to Take Expired Over-the-Counter Medicine?
  • How Bad Is It Really to Eat Food That's Been Out for Hours?
  • How Bad Is It Really to Reuse a Plastic Water Bottle?

Advertisement

(Video) Stop Throwing Away Expired Food - You're Wasting Money!

FAQs

What happens if you eat really expired food? ›

"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, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

How long does it take for expired food to make you sick? ›

How long does it take for food poisoning symptoms to start? Most common types of food poisoning will take four hours to 24 hours after eating to set in, but it's not always so quick. Some foodborne illnesses are latent, meaning they reproduce in your system before you ever feel any symptoms.

How long are expired still OK to eat for? ›

Most shelf-stable foods are safe indefinitely. In fact, canned goods will last for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the 'best by' date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor.

What is the truth about expired food? ›

Most packaged foods are perfectly fine for weeks or months past the date. Canned and frozen goods last for years. That package of chips you forgot about that's a month out of date isn't going to kill you — they just might be a tiny bit less crunchy than you'd like.

What foods can you not eat after the expiration date? ›

What Foods Should You Never Eat After an Expiration Date?
  • Jarred Condiments. It may seem like condiments last forever, but the truth is that once the safety seal on your jars is broken, bacteria is slowly starting to collect. ...
  • Soft Cheeses. ...
  • Egg Substitutes. ...
  • Cold Pressed Juice. ...
  • Fresh Berries.
4 Aug 2022

Can you eat eggs 2 months out of date? ›

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eggs can be sold for up to 30 days after they were packaged. So when your eggs' expiration date has passed, they could be two months old—and still more than likely safe to eat.

Can you get a stomach bug from expired food? ›

If you have nausea or vomiting, stomach pain, watery or bloody diarrhea and fever after eating spoiled food or trying out a new restaurant, consider that you may have a foodborne illness. In that case, your symptoms may appear quickly — within eight to 16 hours of eating contaminated food.

How do I feel better after eating expired food? ›

Food Poisoning Treatment
  1. Avoid solid foods until vomiting ends. Then eat light, bland foods, such as saltine crackers, bananas, rice, or bread.
  2. Sipping liquids may help avoid vomiting.
  3. Don't eat fried, greasy, spicy, or sweet foods.
  4. Don't take anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medication without asking your doctor.
17 Sept 2021

Can you get food poisoning from expired food? ›

Contracting food poisoning could be possible by consuming expired foods if they are contaminated or spoiled, but it's not always likely. However, this is more common with perishable foods such as eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables, because mold, sour taste, weird color or texture, and poor smells are more detectable.

Can I eat something that expired 2 years ago? ›

With the exception of highly acidic items like tomatoes and pineapple, canned vegetables, and some canned soups are okay to eat a year or two after they "expire." Canned meats, like corned beef and SPAM, keep even longer — between two and five years.

What food takes the longest to expire? ›

Foods With the Longest Expiration Dates
  • Canned Beans and Vegetables. Canned food, by definition, lasts longer than most products in the grocery store because it has been specially processed in air-tight cans. ...
  • Spices. ...
  • Cereal and Crackers. ...
  • Dried Pasta and White Rice. ...
  • Popcorn. ...
  • Condiments. ...
  • Coca Cola. ...
  • Honey.
27 Jul 2011

Can you eat expired food if it hasn't been opened? ›

Food consumed after its expiration date might not be harmful to the body, assuming it has been stored properly, and bacteria likely hasn't had time to start growing.

Should I eat something if it expires today? ›

Expiration dates refer to quality, not safety. For example, if a refrigerated product was kept below 40 degrees and was well packaged and handled, it may look and smell a little funny, but would not necessarily be considered unsafe.

Does peanut butter go bad? ›

An open jar of peanut butter stays fresh up to three months in the pantry. After that, it's recommended to store the peanut butter in the fridge (where it can maintain its quality for another 3-4 months). If you don't refrigerate, oil separation can occur.

Do food expiration dates Really Matter? ›

These dates aren't required by federal law (though some states require them) and don't necessarily indicate a product's safety (with the exception of baby formula). In fact, perishable products are usually safe to consume beyond their “best by” date if they've been handled and stored properly.

Is it OK to eat food a day after expiration date? ›

Even if the food is past the date on the packaging, it could still be perfectly good, and fresh even, depending on what the label means. Sell-by date, for example, refers to a date to indicate to retailers by when the product should be off shelves. If it's only a few days past, it's more than likely safe to eat.

Can I eat something that expired a year ago? ›

But as long as you aren't seeing any signs of spoilage, most foods should still be good to eat well past their expiration dates (good news for that bottle of ketchup in your fridge). "Non-perishables can be kept and consumed past the expiration date with only taste, quality and nutrition compromised," Petre says.

Can you eat expired bread if it's not moldy? ›

As long as there's no mold, stale bread can still be eaten — but it may not taste as good as fresh bread.

How long are boiled eggs good for? ›

Once they are cooked, they'll last for about one week regardless of the storage method. The best way to store hard-boiled eggs is to keep them in a covered container, such as Glad Entrée Food Containers in the refrigerator.

Do eggs really expire? ›

With proper storage, eggs typically stay fresh 3–5 weeks past the pack date — the date they were gathered, cleaned, and stored in refrigeration. After 5 weeks, your eggs might start to decline in freshness. They could lose flavor and color, and the texture might even be somewhat altered.

Can eggs expire in the fridge? ›

Eggs may be refrigerated three to five weeks from the day they are placed in the refrigerator. The "Sell-By" date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs will be perfectly safe to use. Always purchase eggs before the "Sell-By" or EXP (expiration) date on the carton.

How long does the stomach bug of 2022 last? ›

Individuals generally become ill 12 – 48 hours after exposure (swallowing norovirus). The acute phase of illness typically lasts 1 to 3 days. Norovirus is spread via the fecal- oral route. Infected individuals shed the virus in their stool and vomit, which can then contaminate food, surfaces, and objects.

What sickness can you get from old food? ›

The top five germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the United States are:
  • Norovirus.
  • Salmonella.
  • Clostridium perfringens.
  • Campylobacter.
  • Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)
18 Mar 2020

What food can last 100 years? ›

Honey is known to be one of the only foods that can last forever. This is largely due to the fact that it is made up of sugar, which makes it hard for bacteria or microorganisms to affect the honey.

Does water expire? ›

Water is a natural substance and does not go bad, however the plastic water bottle will degrade over time and begin to leach chemicals into the water, which is why it is always important to choose BPA free bottled water. ✅ How long can you keep bottled water? The recommended shelf life is two years.

What can you do with unopened expired food? ›

Food banks and pantries all over the country—especially larger organizations which have registered dieticians on the staff who check all donated food to ensure it is still safe to eat and nutritious—encourage people to donate their past-date food (see here, here).

What foods should I stockpile for survival? ›

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener.
  • Protein or fruit bars.
  • Dry cereal or granola.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Dried fruit.
  • Canned juices.
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk.
  • High-energy foods.
30 Mar 2022

What canned food is best for survival? ›

Canned vegetables, such as green beans, carrots, and peas

To pack in as many of those healthy vitamins and minerals as possible, order a case of mixed vegetable cans by Libby's. Inside each can you'll find peas, carrots, corn, lima beans, and green beans, giving you a well-balanced meal straight from the jar.

Can you eat 2 year old frozen meat? ›

But we're here to finally put the question to rest, as the USDA states that as long as all foods are stored at 0 °F or lower in your freezer, they are safe to eat indefinitely.

Are eggs still good 2 weeks after sell by date? ›

As long are they are kept refrigerated at 45 °F or lower, fresh shell eggs are safe to be consumed four to five weeks beyond the carton's Julian date (the date eggs were packed).

Can Jelly go bad? ›

Does Jelly Expire? Jelly does eventually expire, especially if it contains sugar or fresh fruit. The contents become stale and lose their vitamins and nutrients. Jelly also goes bad if it is not properly stored in the refrigerator or used by the expiration date.

Does Skippy peanut butter need to be refrigerated after opening? ›

SKIPPY® Peanut Butter—opened or not—is happiest when stored at room temperature. You can refrigerate it, but know that when refrigerated, it doesn't spread as easily. You should also know that SKIPPY® Peanut Butter doesn't like being too cold, so keep it freezer-free!

What happens if you put peanut butter in the refrigerator? ›

Peanut Butter in Refrigerator isn't a good idea as it is a natural spread used for bread and sandwiches or eaten raw. Refrigerating peanut butter may lead to freezing and hardening of it. Refrigerating of it can also cause the use of peanut butter hard and nearly impossible to consume.

What do grocery stores do with expired meat? ›

Once food hits its sell-by date, many markets donate products to food banks or sell them to salvage stores.

Can you eat frozen food past expiration date? ›

If you notice that the date on the frozen food package has already passed, you may be wondering if that food is still safe to eat. The good news is that you can eat frozen food that has passed its expiration date — although in some cases, the flavor, color, or texture may have decreased in quality (1).

Is it OK to eat expired food after 3 days? ›

Even if the food is past the date on the packaging, it could still be perfectly good, and fresh even, depending on what the label means. Sell-by date, for example, refers to a date to indicate to retailers by when the product should be off shelves. If it's only a few days past, it's more than likely safe to eat.

How do I know if I had food poisoning? ›

Symptoms of food poisoning include:
  1. feeling sick (nausea)
  2. diarrhoea.
  3. being sick (vomiting)
  4. stomach cramps.
  5. a high temperature of 38C or above.
  6. feeling generally unwell – such as feeling tired or having aches and chills.

What is the fastest way to resolve food poisoning? ›

Stop eating and drinking for a few hours. Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You might also try drinking clear soda, clear broth or noncaffeinated sports drinks. You might also try oral rehydration solutions if you have severe dehydration symptoms or diarrhea.

What are the 5 signs of food poisoning? ›

While different types of pathogenic bacteria can cause different symptoms, food poisoning generally presents itself with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever.

What is the quickest way to get rid of a stomach bug? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  1. Let your stomach settle. Stop eating solid foods for a few hours.
  2. Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water often. ...
  3. Ease back into eating. ...
  4. Avoid certain foods and substances until you feel better. ...
  5. Get plenty of rest. ...
  6. Try anti-diarrhea medications.
18 Jan 2022

Videos

1. Eating Expired Foods, Tuna Fish Five Years Past Expiration.
(David S)
2. Is it safe to eat expired food?
(Al Jazeera English)
3. 13 Foods You Should Never Eat Past the Expiration Date | Healthy eating
(Healthy Eating)
4. Foods That Are Safe to Eat After the Expiration Date
(AnswersVideo)
5. How to tell whether expired food is safe to eat
(News4JAX)
6. Can You Eat Expired Food?
(YouCurious?)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Pres. Carey Rath

Last Updated: 11/05/2022

Views: 5618

Rating: 4 / 5 (41 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Pres. Carey Rath

Birthday: 1997-03-06

Address: 14955 Ledner Trail, East Rodrickfort, NE 85127-8369

Phone: +18682428114917

Job: National Technology Representative

Hobby: Sand art, Drama, Web surfing, Cycling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Leather crafting, Creative writing

Introduction: My name is Pres. Carey Rath, I am a faithful, funny, vast, joyous, lively, brave, glamorous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.