Think the sniff test can protect you from foodborne illness? Not when these items are involved.
PHOTO CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
Double-check: Is it really an expiration date?
Not every date you see on your food is an expiration date. Here are four common dates you may see in the grocery store and what they really mean, according to Business Insider:
Sell-by date: How long the store has to display the product
Best before date: The best date for flavour and quality
Packaged on date: Similar to a “best before” date but used on retail-packed foods with a durable life date of 90 days or less.
Manufactured on date: The packing number that the manufacturer uses
None of these are expiration dates nor do they indicate whether food is safe to eat or not. In fact, Health Canada only requires expiration dates on certain foods that have “strict compositional and nutritional specifications.” Expiration foods must be used on the following: formulated liquid diets; foods represented for use in a very low-energy diet; meal replacements; nutritional supplements; human milk supplements.
Why food expiration dates matter
Looks and smells can sometimes be deceiving (taking a whiff of the milk carton is not an exact science), which is why those expiration dates stamped on the packaging can guide you in the right direction and help prevent illness. From creamy cheeses to sandwich staples, it’s best to toss these foods once they’re past their given expiration date unless you want to roll the dice on an extra sick day.
1. Egg substitutes
A full carton of eggs has a little more leeway than their boxed substitutes, but both should be consumed in a timely manner. If you’re debating whether to finish off that two-week-old carton of whites—don’t. “It’s very safe to keep eggs in the refrigerator for three to five weeks if they’re raw and in the shell. For egg substitute products, you have about three to five days on average once they’re open. If they’re unopened you have about 10 days,” says Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And just to set the record straight: yes, eggs are healthy for you.
2. Soft cheeses
Harder cheeses like cheddar or gouda have a longer shelf life because it’s more difficult for bacteria and mold to permeate them. Once opened, hard cheeses may last up to six months in the refrigerator, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, softer cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese, or goat cheese, are more susceptible to mold and bacteria and should be tossed at the first sign of spoiling or once the expiration date has passed, whichever comes first. As a general rule of thumb, softer cheeses last about one week in the refrigerator after opening.
3. Jarred condiments
It may seem like spreads and sauces last forever, but just because they’re in a glass jar tucked away in the cool refrigerator doesn’t mean they’re untouchable by bacteria. “Once you’ve opened the lid, that safety seal is broken, and you should be using that condiment in a timely fashion,” says Crandall. “In addition, as we make sandwiches for example, we dip our knife into the spread container and wipe it onto the sandwich and then dip it back into the container. By doing this you’re putting some of that bacteria back into the container.” Jarred condiments tend to have more exposure to bacteria and therefore could lead to foodborne illness if not trashed at the appropriate time. If you notice any water floating on top, discolouration, or weird smells—just toss it.
4. Potato salad
Similar to jarred spreads like mayo and mustard, potato or egg salads are more susceptible to bacteria growth because they have more instances of exposure. Taking a few scoops at a time from the container introduces more bacteria and increases risk of contamination leading to foodborne illness. Salads like these are often pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about, giving time for that bacteria to grow and for that food to spoil. “Our food system is very safe, but sometimes when things fall out of temperature or if there is bacteria introduced, we have to be extra cautious with those things,” says Crandall.
5. Cold-pressed juice
Green juices may be filling up your Instagram feeds daily, but they should not find a permanent home in your refrigerator. Cold-pressed or raw juices are incredibly popular among the health-conscious because they’re nutrient-dense, but it’s important to consume them very soon after buying. Unlike typical processed juices which undergo pasteurization to kill off harmful bacteria and increase shelf life, these raw juices are not pasteurized, making them much more prone to bacteria contamination. Only buy from your local juice bar what you plan to drink in the next 48-72 hours if you want to avoid getting sick.