How To

Can I eat food that has passed its use-by date?

Some people throw food out as soon as the label instructs them to, while others stretch their produce as far as it can go. So is it really safe to eat food that has “expired”?
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The key is the phrasing of the label: “Best-before” foods are perfectly safe to eat even after the date (as long as they are not damaged or deteriorated) while “use-by” foods should be eaten by the date, or thrown out.

The Food Authority explains the difference, saying that use-by foods become unsafe to eat due to the breakdown of nutrients in the product.

Best-before foods, on the other hand, may lose some of their quality, but can be expected to “retain their colour, taste, texture and flavour” when stored correctly.

There are some foods that you can get a little more mileage out of, though.

Cheese: Bacteria is introduced during the cheese-making process, so there really is little difference to what may be growing on your block of cheddar and what you are already eating. It’s perfectly safe to chop off the mould-affected area and keep enjoying that gruyère.

Chocolate: The white layer that can appear on older bars of chocolate isn’t actually mould, but rather something called “chocolate bloom”. This happens when the chocolate gets a little too warm and the cocoa butter melts; when it re-solidifies, it leaves paler streaks. The amount of sugar present in chocolate means that it’s safe to eat, long after the expiration date.

Pasta: Even though that bag of dried pasta may have been hiding in your pantry for years, the one or two year shelf-life printed on the packet is more of a guideline. Because it doesn’t contain water, dried pasta will last indefinitely, as long as it is stored in a cool, dry place.

Bread: Just because it’s stale, doesn’t mean you need to chuck it in the bin. If it does smell sour or spoiled, get rid of it, but otherwise you can slice off the mouldy end and toast the slice. Stale bread can also be whizzed up for breadcrumbs, which you can use in plenty of dishes.

Salad leaves: If your pre-packaged salad leaves are looking a little limp, you can give them an extra lease of life by reviving them in cold water. Again, if they smell sour or are going mouldy, though, it’s time for the bin.

Roasted beetroot and millet salad

Milk and eggs

While the Food Authority recommends not consuming products like milk, eggs and yoghurt that have passed their use-by date, there are ways to make sure that you are getting the most out of your groceries.

It’s better to store milk at the back of the fridge, where the temperature is cooler, rather than in the fridge door; similarly, storing eggs at a temperature below 5°C can help to prevent potential growth of Salmonella.

If your milk has gone sour, try putting it in to use in some recipes that call for buttermilk, like in Irish soda bread.

By Deirdre Fogarty

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