If you think of food safety as a serious concern, then there are probably certain things you pay attention to when it comes to buying and eating any kind of food, whether it’s something already made or something packaged. You might give it a once-over to make sure there’s no mold or signs that it’s very old, you might smell it to make sure it didn’t go bad, and chances are you also glance at the expiration date. After all, every food — even canned goods — have an expiration date. And the thought is, generally, that you don’t want to eat that food after that date.
But what happens if you do eat food that has expired?
The results can vary. If you’re eating something like milk or cheese or another dairy product after its expiration date, there’s a good chance you’ll get sick or feel terrible.
Same goes for things like produce, meats, and any pre-packaged, already-made meals.
But what about if it’s something like cereal or a can of beans or olives or bread? It’s kind of icky to think about, and so most of us just toss food when it’s past the date. But someone decided to test this out on their own.
A man spent an entire year eating expired food, and the results are pretty insane. Like, they aren’t what you would expect.
Scott Nash, the founder of MOM’s Organic Market, spent a year eating food that was past its labeled date to prove a point.
That included dairy, produce, meats, fish, and packaged food — and no, he didn’t die.
What exactly was the point he was trying to prove?
Nash told WTOP that expiration dates are random and not actually representative of freshness. Instead, they just contribute to the billions of dollars worth of food Americans waste every year. He calls this “consumer anxiety disorder” over food safety, saying:
“Some stuff is damaged, and that’s legitimate, and some stuff really does go bad. But a lot, most of the food that gets discarded is due to these arbitrary and confusing dates.”
To be honest most of us in the grocery business eat quite a bit of outdated food because its readily available (and delicious)!— MOM's Organic Market (@MOMsOrganicMrkt) February 22, 2019
Nash also thinks that the phrases “best by,” “sell by,” and “best if used by” are confusing and vague, with no consistency.
WTOP has pointed out that, aside from infant formula, the dates on food products actually aren’t required by any kind of federal law or regulation, and instead are given by manufacturers and producers to indicate what they think is their best quality window.
To test his idea, Nash ate “old” food, like tortillas that had expired a year ago, meats that were weeks past the date, heavy cream that was a few months old, and yogurt that was nine months past its date.
He started this experiment after finding a container of yogurt that had expired months ago in his fridge.
On his blog, Nash wrote that it seemed fine, so he used it in a smoothie, drank it, and was fine.
He decided to try that with every food.
Nash even ate romaine lettuce that had been recalled because of E. coli, writing:
“I served my family a large Caesar Salad on Thanksgiving, knowing that the odds of getting sick from that romaine were far less than the odds of being killed in a car accident on the way home.”
You ever eat Romaine lettuce and not die just to flex on E Coli?— Rye ziggy (@ZickafooseRyan) February 20, 2019
He even joked that he had eaten sea salt past its date.
He wrote, “Just my luck, 250-million-year-old salt and it expires next year.”
I lol’d at the sea salt— Guido Torpedo (@Guidotorpedo410) February 23, 2019
Nash also ate meat and fish that had expired.
He said that while most of it seemed fine, some of it smelled — “but a quick rinse removed it.”
He added, “By cooking the meat, we essentially reset its freshness date — we ate what we could that night and saved the rest for later.”
It’s an interesting point.
Nash didn’t write about whether or not he got sick from certain foods, but he did add that he was going to continue cooking with expired foods, making it seem like things were fine.
He said, “I do all the cooking for my family, and if you come to dinner at my house, I guarantee you’ll be eating at least one thing that is past its date.”
So, should you start ignoring expiration dates? Experts weighed in, saying that the appearance and smell of food is more important than the date.
Andrea Goergen, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, told WTOP:
“It is very important to make sure that you use your senses. If a product is technically good but looks, smells, or tastes spoiled, err on the side of caution and throw it out or compost it.”
And Munchies pointed out that one study shows that “a near-universal misunderstanding of the dates on food labels is ‘strongly associated’ with the amount of food we all discard.”
That means that we really are wasting food because of expiration dates that don’t actually mean anything — so maybe Nash did have a point.
The lead study author, Dr. Roni Neff, told FoodIngredientsFirst, “Given how widespread these two perceptions were, this study suggests there may be a considerable amount of food unnecessarily discarded as a result.”
That’s definitely not ideal.
My religious institution gets donations from stores that are within or a month past expiration for our foodbank. We’ve never had a problem because of the guidelines. If the gov has these recommendations, just change them for the entire industry— Felicia N. Mason (@Afro_blue32) February 17, 2019
So, at the end of the day, experts think you should use your own senses to see if your food is good or bad, instead of just going off the expiration date alone.
Just be careful, and always keep food safety in mind!