Should expired food be thrown away?

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Should expired food be thrown away? Sometimes yes, but it is good to understand when and why

Should expired food be thrown away or can it be consumed without risk? The answer is not unambiguous. Indeed, it depends on the type of food and the claims made on the label. Let’s see them.

‘To be consumed by’, ‘Expires on’, ‘Expiry’

When the date on the label is preceded by the words ‘Best before’, we are dealing with an expiration date. Which is usually accompanied by a statement such as‘store in the refrigerator at a temperature between 0 and 4’C’. (1)

The expiration date is applied only to microbiologically rapidly perishable foods. That is, to products subject to the risk of proliferation of potentially pathogenic microorganisms. (2)

Food subject to expiration cannot be marketed from the next day, when the same is legally presumed to pose a health risk to the consumer.

Because microorganisms are not visible, organoleptic examination (appearance, odor, and taste) is not sufficient to assess the safety of expired food. And it is therefore recommended to avoid its consumption. Outside of yogurt and fresh milk, which can also be consumed in the days immediately following expiration. (3)

‘Best consumed by’

When the product durability term is instead preceded by the phrase ‘Best before’, (4) exceeding it does not affect food safety.

These are the cases, for example, of cereals and their derivatives (e.g., pasta and baked goods, rice and galette), legumes, vegetable preserves, coffee, and honey. Where even when the suggested time limit for their consumption is exceeded, within reasonable limits, there is no risk to consumer health.

In such situations, unless the food is obviously unfit for consumption (e.g., because it is infested with insects), the decision may be made to use it. Albeit with the awareness of a possible deterioration of its organoleptic qualities. (5)

Conclusions

In conclusion, the safety factor must be given priority when the deadline passed is an expiration date. Albeit reluctantly, it is better to throw away expired food (except for fresh milk and yogurt in the 2-3 days afterwards) than to endanger one’s own health and the health of one’s loved ones.

Conversely, one can try to ‘save what can be saved’ and therefore use food that has passed the period within which it is ‘preferably’ consumed (the so-called ‘minimum shelf life’). With a view to minimizing food waste. (6)

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) E.g. meat and fish products, dairy products.

(2) Such as bacteria, viruses, yeasts and molds. In the first category are noted Lysteria monocytes, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, E.Coli. For more details, see http://www.federica.unina.it/agraria/microbiologia-degli-alimenti/infezioni-e-intossicazioni-alimentari-batteri-patogeni-trasmessi-con-gli-alimenti-escherichia-coli-enterovirulenti/

(3) Be that as it may, under the sole responsibility of the consumer. With care taken to avoid risks to vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, the elderly

(4) C.d. minimum shelf life, TMC

(5) A degradation that varies with the type of product and the more or less optimal conditions under which it was stored. Reg. EU 1169/11 even excludes certain foods from the obligation to indicate the minimum shelf life (All. X, para. 1(d)). These include wines and vinegars, beverages with alcohol >10% vol., salt, sugar in a solid state, and confectionery products consisting almost exclusively of sugar, chewing gum and the like

(6) Outside Europe, the situation is more complex, as there are multiple and sometimes unclear terms used. V. http://www. npr.org/ sections/thesalt/2017/09/20/552116399/global-plan-to-streamline-use-by-food-labels-aims-to-cut-food-waste