Would you eat expired food to save money?
This morning I dumped a quart of half and half down the sink. I wasn’t being wasteful but careful. When I opened that quart to use in my coffee, something didn’t smell right. Not wanting to take a chance, I poured it out, even though the expiration date was days away.
While I can justify getting rid of my half and half, it turns out that millions of Americans are pouring savings down the drain or throwing them away in the trash by getting rid of perfectly good food every day, simply because the expiration or sell-by date has come and gone. Some experts estimate that we Americans are wasting some $2,700 a year per person by throwing away food.
Here’s what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to say about this issue of expiration dates: “FDA does not require food firms to place ‘expired by’, ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.”
One entrepreneur is using expired food to his advantage, opening a store and restaurant selling only that. It’s called The Daily Table; its founder is former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch, who hopes to bring healthy food to inner-city locations via Daily Table locations. The first Daily Table is set to open outside Boston in early 2014.
But back to the notion of expiration dates. You may be wondering: how do I know when to keep or toss my cookies, or other food in my pantry or refrigerator? Here is an easy primer that will let you know if these 10 common foods are past their prime or still good enough to eat, despite what the expiration date says:
- Cereal: If your box of breakfast cereal has never been opened, still smells fresh, and is bug-free, it is probably still OK to pour yourself a bowl.
- Cheese: Mold growing on hard cheese isn’t a huge cause for concern. You can cut off the offending portions and continue to eat the rest that isn’t affected.
- Eggs: I’ve cracked many an egg days and weeks after the package says I should have thrown them out. However, if when cracking the egg it smells bad, into the trash it goes!
- Ice Cream: Bacteria can’t grow at below-freezing temperatures, but older ice cream might taste gross.
- Juice: The biggest risk you take in drinking juice that is possibly expired is it loses its Vitamin C potency.
- Ketchup: You’ll know if your ketchup is bad if it stings your tongue, meaning it has started to ferment.
- Meat: The one exception I make to playing chicken with an expiration date is meat. I would never recommend eating chicken, beef, or any other kind of meat (including deli or luncheon meat) beyond an expiration date, because you risk some very serious illnesses.
- Milk: Experts say that your nose knows when milk is past its prime. It often aligns very closely with an expiration date.
- Mustard: This condiment is often good enough to serve for as long as one year beyond the date on the label, especially if you’ve kept it in the refrigerator.
- Yogurt: Last September we learned of an extreme example of yogurt that had spoiled long before it should have—when Chobani recalled yogurt that was contaminated and was bubbling in its container. Of course, if you see this in your yogurt, regardless of the brand, trash it, no matter what the date on the label says.
Even with all these frugal tips in mind, here’s one last thought: while I want you to be able to save money on the food you buy, as far as your health and expired food go, when in doubt, throw it out.
Leah Ingram is the author of 14 books, including two on frugal living. Her book Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less was just released as an audiobook. Leah is the founder of the popular frugal-living blog called Suddenly Frugal. Right now if you subscribe to Suddenly Frugal, Leah will send you an exclusive freebie. Each week here on Parade.com she’ll be covering different money-saving ideas. If you have an idea, let her know. In the meantime, follow her on Twitter @suddenlyfrugal and “Like” Suddenly Frugal on Facebook.