Do You Donate Canned Food Past its Expiration Date?
Should you feel a little guilty selecting canned food items from your pantry that are past its “sell-by” date and giving them to your kid’s food drive at school? Here’s a recent reminder from ABC News about what “sell-by” and “best-used-by” labeling really means on food items.
We’re all guilty of it at one time or another—digging through the pantry and picking out that old can of pumpkin pie mix or condensed milk with the sell-by dates expired and passing it onto our kids for their school food drive. But does this really make us a bad parent? Are we hurting anyone by doing this?
According to ABC News Good Morning America, those "sell-by" dates on your food items may seem like an easy way to tell when food should be thrown out, but the truth of the matter is that it turns out that in most cases, a "sell-by" or "best used by" date isn't an automatic warning sign that the food is spoiled.
In fact, according to one food expert on the show, those labels really don’t mean anything when it comes to indicating what the real condition—spoiled or not—the food item is in. Rather, its labeling required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, telling the store how long to display the product for sale―NOT that the product has gone bad once it reaches the "sell-by" or "best used by" date printed on the can.
According to Consumer Reports:
• ‘Sell by.’ This is the date by which manufacturers suggest that retailers remove the product from shelves. The goal is to ensure quality for a period of time after you buy it. That can be several days to several weeks, depending on the item. For instance, milk, assuming proper refrigeration, should last five to seven days past its sell-by date before turning sour.
• ‘Best by’ and ‘use by.’ Those terms tell you when to eat (or freeze) a product for the best quality. A jar of salsa may not taste as fresh and tangy as it’s supposed to, for example, and crackers may be soft instead of crisp after those dates.
According to ABC News, the only federal requirements requiring expiration dates on food is with infant formula. A “best-used-by” date indicates the last date of the product’s peak quality. After the labeled date, the infant formula begins to gradually have fewer active nutrients as the product begins to degrade over time.
Canned Food Recommendations
So does this mean that canned food is forever? Forever is an absolute, and when it comes to food nothing other than possibly Twinkies or those yellow Easter marshmallow chicks may last forever. ABC News tells its viewers that when it comes to canned goods, here are the expected time limits before a canned food will likely go bad:
• Fruits: 1-2 Years
• Vegetables: 1-2 Years
• Beans: 1 Year
So give yourself a break from some holiday guilt when you donate that can of food that is a little past its sell-by date and make it a point to learn how to rotate your canned goods to ensure that your food is not wasted and well within a safe use time period.
For information about expired medications, here is what Dr. Oz has to say about which expired medications you can keep and which you should toss.
Reference: ABC News Good Morning America “Food Sell-By Dates: What They Really Tell You”