December 26, 2012

IT'S JUST AS GOOD, ONLY CHEAPER:

Don't Fear That Expired Food (DAN CHARLES, December 26, 201, NPR)

Here's the short answer: Those "sell-by" dates are there to protect the reputation of the food. They have very little to do with food safety. If you're worried whether food is still OK to eat, just smell it.

[T]hese dates don't really tell you anything about whether food is safe.

According to Ruff, most products are safe to eat long after their expiration date. In fact, even meat or milk that's clearly starting to spoil is not necessarily dangerous. "Very often, you won't eat it because of the smell, and you probably won't like the taste, but in a lot of cases, it's unlikely to cause you illness," he says.

That's because it's not the food that sat on the shelf too long that makes you sick, Ruff says. It's the food that got contaminated with Salmonella or Listeria bacteria, or disease-causing strains of E. coli. And that food might not smell bad as it might have arrived in the store only yesterday.

"In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can't think of [one] that was driven by a shelf-life issue," Ruff says.

Canned food, in particular, can stay safe for a really long time. In 1974, scientists at the National Food Processors Association in Washington, D.C., got their hands on several old cans of food.

Janet Dudek, now semi-retired and living in Vienna, Va., was among the scientists who analyzed this old food. Her assignment was a can of corn, vintage 1934, that was found in someone's basement in California.

When they opened the can, Dudek says, the contents looked and smelled pretty much like ordinary canned corn. Analysis showed that it had most of the usual complement of nutrients -- although there were lower levels of a few, such as vitamin C.

Results were similar for century-old canned oysters, tomatoes, and red peppers in cans recovered from a sunken steamboat, buried in river silt near Omaha, Neb.
Posted by at December 26, 2012 9:27 AM
  
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