What do food expiration dates really mean? ‘Food product dating,’ according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is voluntary for most products and has nothing to do with safety. It is the manufacturers best guess as to when the product passes the point of peak quality. Produce is easy – we see it and smell it. But what about the other products that hang out in our refrigerators and cabinets?
- Baking materials: Vinegars, syrups, honey, vanilla, sugar and salt can last forever without degrading quality. Steel cut or rolled oats can last for a year, instant oats forever. Oils stored in sealed cans are invincible while glass is less sustainable.
- Bread, Flour and Rice: Supermarket bread with oils and preservatives can last for weeks in the fridge. White flour and refined white rice can last up to a year or more whereas Whole Wheat, gluten-free flours and brown rice will start degrading after several months. Smell it and always store airtight.
- Spices and Nuts: Spices have longevity but lose potency and flavor. Nuts, though, can go rancid within months unless stored in the freezer.
- Canned goods and beans: Note that metal lasts longer than glass, which trumps plastic. This includes canned sodas, too. Dried beans and lentils are safe for years.
- Eggs and Milk: Eggs can last several weeks after purchasing them. Look for “UHT” or ultra-high temperature on your milk label for longer-lasting milk.
Our landfills contain heaps of food waste. Be smart when you shop – purchase smaller quantities for certain foods, freeze some items and remember that expiration dates are not always true. Your nose is the best test.
By Mary Closser