E is for expiration date

With the exception of infant formula, the laws that the FDA administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label.

expire-dateRecently, the Wife threw away some baby aspirin I was taking because the expiration date on the package had passed six months earlier. I knew instinctively that it was not necessary to toss them, but I wasn’t sure why. Then I came across this letter to Mark Evanier from a reader that shed some light:

Reading about… the bit about the expiration dates on the low-dose aspirin you found there, don’t worry about it. Most pharmaceuticals do not go bad (note I did not say all). Many drugs including aspirin never go bad unless the various ingredients somehow precipitate out and separate themselves from the other ingredients…

Stable medications like aspirin are still effective for years after their “expiration dates.” Aspirin (just to keep it on topic) didn’t have an expiration date at all until it became a requirement.

Yes, requirement. The Food and Drug Administration back in the late ’60s or early ’70s issued a requirement that all medications have an expiration date, usually five years after a drug is manufactured or packaged, unless the medication itself warranted a shorter time span. In many cases the five year timeframe had nothing to do with the effectiveness of the medication. My late father, a pharmacist for 50 years, jokingly speculated that it was simply to force him to replace old pills and keep the drug companies in business.

The Wikipedia article on shelf life touches on the topic as well.
WebMD took on Do Food Expiration Dates Really Matter? Perhaps not: the FDA notes : “With the exception of infant formula, the laws that [it] administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label. 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.

This post explains the difference between expiry date (the UK English term) and Best Before date. The former tells “consumers the last day a product is safe to consume. You should never consume food after the expiry date.” Whereas Best Before date is designated by the manufacturer when “the product reaches peak freshness. The date does not indicate spoilage, nor does it necessarily tells you that the food is no longer safe for consumption.”

This is not just an academic observation. From The Atlantic : “In 2010, U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores threw out 43 billion pounds, or $46.7 billion worth, of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).” And much of that food was edible.

This item about the dates on store-bought eggs, which went viral, created more buzz than insight.

“Food that is tossed out is a meal that a hungry person will never be able to enjoy. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported… that [there are] 795 million people without enough food to eat. For reference, about one in seven Americans lack reliable access to food, and an extra 15 percent in saved food could feed over 25 million Americans…”

Another factor in this calculation involves how food is stored. The folks and Groom+Store have put together Your Guide to Food Storage for Healthier Eating.  To cut down on food waste, check out the section Ways to Rescue Foods that Are About to Go Bad.


ABC Wednesday – Round 18

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

26 thoughts on “E is for expiration date”

  1. I was taught that really old aspirin CAN go bad, they start to smell “off” because the salicylic acid is breaking down.

    My big complaint with food waste is that so many of the grocery stores never consider small households, and package things in such enormous lots that unless you have a deep freeze or are willing to eat the same thing every meal for two weeks, you’re out of luck. (And you can’t freeze some things, like raw eggs).

  2. By coincidence, I was mildly rebuked by Mrs P yesterday for using some eggs that were a week or so beyond their best before date. My own take on this is that they are okay as long as they don’t smell the kitchen out. Or if pushed, I will drop them in a glass of water to see if they float or not.

    But that link you posted explains why the white might be a little watery and spread too much in the pan if I’m using them too late.

  3. Having not that good a health i always am extra carefull with products and their dates… better safe then sorry 😉

  4. Surely, if aspirin has been around for YEARS, I wouldn’t take it, but weeks or months will be fine.

  5. So many people go hungry just because of OUR waste! Years ago, I taught at a business college for women trying to get back into the work force after things like prison, drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, etc. and my local grocery store would fill my trunk and back seat with day-old breads and bakery items once a week. Those women knew when I’d arrive the next morning and would help me load them up into the “school.” Every single item went and it was all very appreciated!

    abcw team

  6. I totally agree that aspirin is ok weeks and several months after the expiration date.
    When it smells bitter toss it out.
    There is too much waste from perfectly good food being tossed because of the date. I agree with Hildred…marketing…all the way.

  7. Long before expiration dates, my momma taught me to smell the milk to see if it was still okay to drink, and we didn’t throw away bread till it started growing mold. Wonderful post for the letter E.

  8. Always learn something when I visit …. yes, the best by date is really a marketing ploy.. i do tend to use some food items/and some medicines too after their “best by” – will go read the articles you have linked here for more information

  9. I thought that medicines like aspirin have no expiration per se, but I too am guilty of throwing them out after the expiry date indicated.

  10. Expiration dates and best by dates are a guideline at best and yes, I too agree with Hildred, marketing ploy to keep the machine of commerce churning.
    More important than date on package is to shop at a merchant you can trust not to leave the meat, dairy or frozen goods in a storeroom or on a dock too long, a little temperature change even for a few moments can wreak bacterial havoc in warm climates

  11. Yes, I would agree that there is a lot of this misinformation stuff about expiry date/best before thing happening which only keeps the commercial interest of the manufacturers in mind. In India also we have many traditional medicines, herbs etc that don’t go bad for years. But some of the modern industrial units marketing these products are now following the same ‘expiry date’ business mostly for their commercial interests.

  12. Yes always good to know the difference between Use By and Best Before. Sometimes you do wonder about the date, the tight dates quoted for yoghurt always bemuse me, best to use your nose in those cases.

  13. The people of the Inca Empire, like ours, always had a surplus of food. Every year they ate one third of their food supply, stored one third in case of future crop failure, and burned one third as a sacrifice to their gods.

    According to the USDA, we waste 31% of our food each year. Consider that a one third sacrifice to OUR gods: Greed, Sloth, Selfishness, Stupidity and The I(visible Hand Of The Marketplace.

  14. The are some products that I ignore the expiration date – anything commercially canned has enough added preservatives to last halfway to forever! I’m more careful of expiration dates on fresh food and try to get the best date I can.
    And yes, I am appalled at the food wasted. And I agree with an earlier comment – so many things are in too large a package for just a one or two person household. And if you find smaller packages, the cost is more per unit than the larger ones!

  15. I’ve always taken “expiration” and “best by” dates with a grain of salt, depending on the product and the date imprinted. I was told by a doctor during a missionary trip to Mexico, that most medications are not harmful when “expired,” they may just loose their strength. Anyway, thanks for the info!

  16. The expiration date on medication is a joke. Here we give them back to the pharmacy and they send them to Africa ! Anyway these expiration dates on food is all business. I do like my parents and grandparents did, I throw things away when they stink ! There is even expiration date on rice !!! that’s supposed to last for ages !

  17. The only sell by dates I take notice of is dairy products.
    Even vegetables and salad stuff have dates on them which I
    ignore and use my own judgement as to whether they are ok to
    I firmly believe it’s just ploy to get us to spend more money.

    Best wishes,
    ABCW team.

  18. My granddaughters “cleaned” my kitchen for me a few weeks ago–organizing and so forth. They threw lots of cabinet stuff away because it exceeded the date. I was so happy they wanted to help Nana I didn’t tell them the stuff was probably still fine.

  19. Will certainly show this Post to my better half. I have been telling him that markings are mandatory due to government regulations(they too have to safeguard themselves.We need to be careful about medicines and stuff but this marking makes people go overboard over the safety issue.

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