Most instinctively, without any prior training, we draw it close to our nose and take a nice whiff of it.
Smelling food to understand whether it is fit to eat or not is something we’re all guilty of. We say guilty because that means we’ve probably not consumed the food within the time we should have and now we may have to throw it away. While this method is helpful in many cases, actually spoilt food may often pass this test causing risk to our health. This is because we can’t smell, or for that matter see, all contaminants. We’re talking microscopic levels.
Difference Between A Best Before Date And A Use By Date
According to the National Health Services, it is okay to extend a best before date but never a use by date, even if the food looks and appears fine. This could put you at risk of food poisoning.1
Foods that spoil easily usually have a best before date. This date can sometimes be stretched by weeks and is more an indication of quality than safety. Foods eaten after their best before date has passed may not taste or feel as great in the mouth but are still safe to eat.
Foods You Can Eat Past Their Best Before Dates
We’re all guilty of succumbing to the “buy one get one free” offers in supermarkets. As expected, we’re often left with excess food which we’re not sure is still safe to consume. You don’t need to get rid of all foods immediately. Foods that have excess salt or sugar, are pasteurized, or fermented can be eaten well past their expiry dates.
Here are instances you can spark your inner frugality:
The favorite breakfast food and snack, we’re always overstocking bread. But there’s no need to panic if their expiry date is drawing near and you’re in no mood to eat it yet. If you store bread in a cool and dry place, you will make it difficult for bread mold to form. Once you see mold, discard it.
Refrigerate bread to make it last longer.
2. Pasteurized Milk
Milk that has undergone sterilization (pasteurization) takes longer to spoil because it does not carry any microbes. By storing pasteurized milk in the fridge, preferably in the back of the shelves, you can extend its shelf life by 50%.
If you find that the milk is tasting sour, use it to make pancakes or recycle it into homemade curd.
A staple in most households and a baker’s favorite, eggs are one of those things you’re always stocking up on thinking you’ll use them. But that’s not always the case.
Place eggs in a bowl of water to check if they’re safe to eat. If they float, eat them. If they sink, discard them hygienically.
4. Honey And Jam
Honey does not really every spoil. It is safe to consume even after crystals begin to form and the color begins to darken. You can microwave the honey to get rid of the crystals. Jams too have long shelf lives, even when homemade. Unopened bottles last longer than opened ones due to greater opportunities for contamination.
It’s important to use a clean spoon if you’re scooping out the honey or jam and not contaminate it with other foods.
5. Cookies And Crisps
As long as the loss in crunch doesn’t bother you, go ahead and extend their best before dates. A good way to test if cookies and crisps are safe to eat by simply holding them in your hand. If they spontaneously crumble apart, throw them away.
To check if the oil used to bake them have gone off – sniff. If they smell bad, throw them away.
6. Fermented Foods
These include sauerkraut and kimchi. Being carriers of healthy bacteria themselves and produced by salting, curing, and drying, they can last well past their expiry dates. Remember to store them hygienically.
7. Hard Cheeses
Hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan are good to eat up to a month after their best before dates. Look for mold growth and slice off contaminated corners. The rest of the cheese block is fine to eat.
Don’t try the same with soft cheeses like brie or camembert. They spoil way more easily.
8. Canned Foods
Keep canned foods in a cool, dry spot to prevent spoilage due to heat and moisture. Regularly check for leakages or dents that may have allowed contaminants to sneak in – in which case, they need to be binned.
Most cans have a best before date set at 3 years after the date of packaging. This date can be extended by a couple of years if stored correctly.
Boxes of cereal can pile up in your pantry without you even realizing it, and then you have to discard them all – we’re all victims; or should we say culprits? If the staleness doesn’t bother you, go ahead and eat your cereals up to 6 months after their best before dates.
10. Dry Pasta
Being stripped of moisture, dry pasta can be eaten past its predicted shelf life. Key is in keeping it dry and storing it in an air-tight container. Sniffing the pasta to check for a bad odor may help identify egg-containing spoilt pasta. If you get a rotten smell, discard it.
11. Pre-cut Salad Mixes
Ready-to-eat salad mixes are usually fine to eat past their best before dates. Give them a thorough wash and snip off wilted parts of salad leaves before digging in. You know it’s time to let go of them when they become visibly slimy and start decaying.
Butter only makes it to this list provided you freeze it before its best before date. The salts in it serve as preservatives making it last longer. Bear in mind that once you’ve thawed the butter, you use all of it. Refreezing will not help preserve it.
This goes without saying, if the food smells or looks unfit for consumption, don’t eat it. Extend a food’s expiry date within reason. Going with a gut feel also helps. Don’t get confused between best before and use by dates.