We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve found something in the cupboard for lunch but the expiry date is couple days gone and you don’t know whether to risk it or chuck it. Whether you decide to chance it or not it’s always better knowing for sure if you should always follow what’s on the packet. To help you be more confident when checking potentially expired food here are some guidelines to follow.
The Difference Between Use by and Best Before
Many people assume ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ are two ways of saying the same thing, but in reality, they have different purposes. ‘Best before’ is the less strict term, it refers to the date at which the quality of the food may no longer be at its highest. This is generally found on tinned, frozen and dried foods that can still be safely eaten for a substantial amount of time after this date. So, if you find a tin of beans a week or so after its best before date you’re probably in the clear.
The ‘use by’ date is one you will want to pay closer attention to, this is found on fresh products like meat, fish, and vegetables. For the most part, you shouldn’t eat it past this date as you could be at risk of becoming ill but there are some exceptions where good judgement is key. Expired food that has a high fat or sugar content can be safe to eat for a few days longer and those that are in a preservative – like vinegar – will likely be okay too. Additionally, if you see mould on hard cheese you can cut it off but soft cheeses like brie should be discarded.
Expired Food You’ve Frozen and Leftovers
If you’ve frozen some expired food before its use by date then the rules change slightly. Once frozen, the food becomes locked in the state it was when it went into the freezer. You should always defrost any food you plan on eating thoroughly, the safest way to do so is at room temperature or slowly in the fridge. Once completely thawed you should cook and eat it on the same day to be sure it’s safe.
When it comes to leftovers that have been cooked and then chilled in the fridge you should either eat it cold or heat it through very thoroughly. A good rule of thumb is to not eat leftovers that are more than three days old and you should never reheat something more than once. Any food that came pre-cooked – like ready meals – should not be heated up more than what is specified on the packet. Finally, when dealing with rice, make sure to cool leftovers down gradually within two hours and only reheat and eat within 24 hours.
Storing Foods to Last Longer
To make sure food lasts at least as long as it should – and maybe a tad longer – there are certain ways you can store it to help. When packing your fruit and veg away certain combinations can cause neighbouring produce to go off quicker, this is due to the gases certain fresh fruit and veg let off. Some of the main offenders are apples causing watermelons to spoil faster in the fridge, onions slightly effecting the taste of potatoes, and the worst being bananas making pretty much everything go off quicker. To improve longevity keep these things in a separate place.
Another food to take note of is eggs. There is the reoccurring debate about whether you should store them in the fridge or at room temperature, with some saying keeping them in fridge encourages salmonella to develop. In reality both are perfectly safe, however, storing them in the fridge can keep them fresher for longer. If possible, store them at the back of the fridge to keep the temperature more consistent, further improving their life. Ultimately, if it doesn’t smell or look right don’t eat it.