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Does This Smell Weird To You? The End of Expiration Dates

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Does This Smell Weird To You? The End of Expiration Dates

With the natural delegation of domestic responsibilities, some people are bestowed the jobs that require such skills as brute force, persuasive ingenuity, and unyielding diplomacy (as in dealing with the telephone company), whereas others are simply saddled with the task of deciphering whether the yogurt has gone bad. There is one in every household, maybe not an authority, but someone who everyone defers to when the beans smell a little too floral or the milk has taken on a new level of lactic dimension. “Here–tell me if this is still good?” is most often the question posed to these select few, and with time, and a decent sniffer, most of these defacto experts rise to the occasion. And for years all consumers had to rely on at least 4 of their five senses to keep food poisoning at bay.

Over the past few decades an imperfect system has been put in place to nominally aid consumers in figuring out which foods are worth consuming and which foods have passed their prime–it is called the expiration date. You will find them on everything from cartons of milk to boxes of pancake mix and virtually everything that is packaged and sold in grocery store. Some people live their lives in accordance with the expiration date whereas others treat it as a sort of yardstick and routinely consume a food product well beyond the expiration date.

A recent article by Nadia Arumugam on Slate.com titled “Ignore Expiration Dates” casts a serious doubt over the efficacy and validity of expiration dates. As it stands, there are no federal regulations that govern expiration dates, except for in the case of infant food and baby formula. All other expiration dates are decided upon by the manufacturers whim, or at least the most conservative estimates regarding the shelf life of a product. According to Arumugam, the expiration date printed on a carton of milk or a chicken breast means very little.

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Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, General Health, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

145 comments

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4:16AM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

ty

6:01AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

even though they can see there is NOTHING wrong with it. the amount of veg and salad they throw out is ridiculous! so we go over, take the 'old' spinach and eat it 3 days later with pasta. still tastes good and we're not ill!

tinned food is another one. we've got tins a year or 2 out of the 'use by' date and we've opened them and there is NOTHING wrong with the items inside! they have been hermetically sealed! [yes i agree, i buy ones that aren't dented in the supermarket as you can never be sure if the seal has broken, but at the same time, if there's no juice coming out and it's only got a small dent in the side, then it should be fine] if you're that bothered by it, give it to a homeless person or someone who is starving and they won't think twice about eating it.

i agree that "more emphasis should be placed on food borne pathogens like salmonella and E. Coli" but at the same time, better "the way we handle, process, and transport food" will also help. knowledge will also help, as does common sense, but that seems to be lacking for the majority of the population!

6:00AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

i like this article, thankyou.

i have written extensively on the other article similar to this, called "Dated and Wasted: The Expiration of Expiration Dates" however, i agree with what is written here.

"Over the past few decades an imperfect system has been put in place to nominally aid consumers in figuring out which foods are worth consuming and which foods have passed their prime–it is called the expiration date."

i agree whole-heartedly. we use the LOOK/SMELL/TASTE test to see if it is still useable. does it look okay? does it smell like it should? taste a bit-does it taste like it should? mostly, if it looks and smells okay, then it will taste okay too.

it is the rate at which food deteriorates which has the highest level of variable in it and that is why i use the test mentioned above. yes, it may be in the fridge now in the supermarket, but how far has it traveled and not been in a cool container?

my partner and i buy things that have been reduced REGULARLY [several items a week, totaling 10 or more individual items] and eat/drink them past these dates. milk, cookies, bread all last beyond their given dates and by using the test, you can see if you want to still eat/drink the items. most times, it can be around a week before they go bad. but if we know we won't use it in that time, we freeze it. my partner's grandparents are the complete OPPOSITE! they NEVER eat ANYTHING passed it's 'sell by'/'display until' date and will throw it away, even though

5:59AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

i like this article, thankyou.

i have written extensively on the other article similar to this, called "Dated and Wasted: The Expiration of Expiration Dates" however, i agree with what is written here.

"Over the past few decades an imperfect system has been put in place to nominally aid consumers in figuring out which foods are worth consuming and which foods have passed their prime–it is called the expiration date."

i agree whole-heartedly. we use the LOOK/SMELL/TASTE test to see if it is still useable. does it look okay? does it smell like it should? taste a bit-does it taste like it should? mostly, if it looks and smells okay, then it will taste okay too.

it is the rate at which food deteriorates which has the highest level of variable in it and that is why i use the test mentioned above. yes, it may be in the fridge now in the supermarket, but how far has it traveled and not been in a cool container?

my partner and i buy things that have been reduced REGULARLY [several items a week, totaling 10 or more individual items] and eat/drink them past these dates. milk, cookies, bread all last beyond their given dates and by using the test, you can see if you want to still eat/drink the items. most times, it can be around a week before they go bad. but if we know we won't use it in that time, we freeze it. my partner's grandparents are the complete OPPOSITE! they NEVER eat ANYTHING passed it's 'sell by'/'display until' date and will throw it away, even though

8:32AM PST on Jan 6, 2013

...have taken note of these sence's...thanks!

7:16PM PST on Jan 4, 2013

thanks alot Maureen K. I didn't know that, it's a sell by date , not expiry date.

6:45PM PST on Dec 31, 2012

I try to use my common sense. The date on the carton or bottle of milk is not an expiration date; it is a sell-by date. Accordingly, the expiration date would actually be about a week after the sell-by date.However, I have used milk long after this date and found it to be good yet. On the other hand, I have used it before that date and found it to be soured already. Because I am on an extremely low-sodium diet, I don't use canned products anymore. One thing I was always careful of when I did used canned food was to make sure the can still had a vacuum. I often see people buying cans that are dented, etc. They don't seem to realize that this can break the vacuum and make the food spoil a lot sooner.

8:20AM PST on Dec 31, 2012

Thank you

7:12AM PST on Dec 30, 2012

ty

8:30AM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

planned obsolescence challenges all of us

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