Friday, February 27, 2015

Food Expiration Dates and Shelf Life

           A couple of days ago, a package of goodies from a relative in New Zealand arrived at our doorstep. It was sent August of last year and was expected to get here in the Philippines after a couple of months. Transit of cargoes were very late and went on very slow due to port congestion. That must be the reason why the package arrived at a later date than expected.
           Our excitement about the package was quickly replaced by disappointment. Most of the goods- cookies, candies, chocolates, canned foods were past their expiration dates and shelf life. Off to the trash bin they went. Someone from our household was hesitant to throw them away. That brings me to the point of telling everyone (and post about it, too) about food and other perishables' expiration dates. Should we really dispose products past their expiration date?  Is it safe to eat or use them for some time after?
           First off, check the date. Be aware that different countries use different date formats. In the U.S.A. ,02/10/15 means February 10, 2015. Whereas the same date in Europe or UK would mean 2 October, 2015. Some food has two dates indicated on their labels. They can either be the date when they were manufactured and the expiration date.

          Shelf life (as defined by The Free Dictionary) is the length of  time a product may be stored without becoming unsuitable for use or consumption. Different types of food use different terminologies to indicate their shelf life.
           'Use by' dates can usually be seen on food that gets spoiled easily, so don't eat or use it after this date. Ready - prepared salads, yogurt, packed maki rolls have 'use by' dates to indicate until when they are safe to be consumed.                                         

            'Best before' dates are more about quality. After this date, the food starts to lose its taste. Food may also change its texture. Canned foods usually use 'best before' dates to tell until when it is most ideal to consume the product. Canned foods are sterile hence, deemed free from bacterial contaminants. They may last for years without spoiling if their cans remain intact. Canned foods which are bulging present clear evidence of bacterial growth. They bulge because of the gas produced inside the can secondary to bacterial proliferation. Once canned food is bulging or leaking, its no longer fit for consumption, even if its not past it's 'best before' date.
           Frozen foods also use 'best before' dates to indicate the peak time of consumption. Even if frozen, they won't retain their flavor and texture.
           There are food products that would also put on their labels the maximum number of days the product would be good for consumption once opened. This date is just as important as the 'Best Before' date.
           There are lots of terminologies to indicate a products best time to be consumed or until when they are at its peak of freshness and quality. 'Sell By', 'Best if Used By', and many other terms  just to tell the date every wise consumer would look for. These 'dates' were determined by the products manufacturers who know the products by heart. These 'dates' are placed on each product to guide consumers of their safety and satisfaction.
            Most of us, if not all, would look at the food closely then sniff it to gauge whether its spoiled or not. A better and more objective way of knowing that is by checking the label for these 'use by' or 'best before' dates and the 'consume after __ days once opened'.  However, when these dates are not known anymore (let's say the original packaging is gone) and this food item has been sitting in the fridge for some time, as my Food Microbiology professor would say- "when in doubt, throw it".

Photo Credits:
     Chicken Fruit Salad by ismaellozada
     Tin Can by keerati 
     Shopping for Food by Ambro

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