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5 foods you can safely eat past their ‘best by’ date

With up to 40 per cent of food in North America being tossed, here are five foods that are safe to eat past manufacturer's suggested 'sell by' dates.
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Mary Luz Mejia, October 22, 2013 1:25:11 PM

Ask any mom or food shopper about when they decide to throw out food, and most will tell you that as soon as the "best by" date tells them to. Most will add that they simply don't want to get family members sick because they're not sure what might be "growing" in that can, box or packet. In hard numbers, that translates to about 40 per cent of food being thrown out in the US alone.

A big part of the reason for this is the labels given to food products. A recent study published by the Harvard Law School and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that most shoppers confuse packaging labels referring to freshness with safety warnings they assume mean something entirely different.

Interviewed for the bbc.com, Dana Gunders, a food scientist from the NRDC, says much of the food labelled bad is actually perfectly edible. Registered Holistic Nutritionist Julie Daniluk, who advocates eating fresh, unprocessed/unrefined foods explains why: "Expiry dates are used for more fragile food products that can grow serious contaminants. Best Before dates are not government regulated and are a suggestion by the food company that the product would be at its peak before a specific time." She adds, "This does not mean the product is contaminated. It is a technique used by food companies to keep product moving in the stores and to make sure the product tastes ‘fresh’.”

The bottom line, you're not likely to get sick from a bag of corn tortilla chips if it's one month past its sell by date. They may taste stale, but that's about the extent of the harm done. According to a Today.com article, businessman Dough Rauch who was behind the US food chain Trader Joe's, is opening a supermarket and restaurant that will sell outdated foods.

So here are a few foods that food scientists say are safe to eat past their best-by dates:

1. Chocolate
Due to temperature fluctuations and being exposed to air, you might notice a whitish/gray covering called a "bloom" on your bar. This is not mould. It's what happens when some of the crystalline fat melts and rises to the top of your chocolate and you can eat it without a problem. It may not be as fresh tasting but it won't make you sick.

2. Milk
Scientists agree that milk will smell or taste off long before you're guzzling it back and feeling green. That being said, don't let it sit around on your kitchen counter because microbes in the air will spoil milk. Your fridge should be set to 2C to help prolong milk's shelf life.

3. Yoghurt and hard cheeses
The NRDC's Gunders says that yoghurt can last beyond six weeks. If there's mould growing on it, she scrapes it off and claims she's never had a problem. With hard cheeses (i.e. Cheddar or Parmesan), you're likely good to go four weeks past the official date.

4. Mustard and mayonnaise
Mustard has a long shelf lifeeven after opened. If kept in your fridge, you could be looking at up to a year past its original date. For mayo, if it's been stored according to label instructions, you're looking at three to four months past it's date for it to be considered safe-to-consume.

5. Canned goods and pantry staples
Foods such as packets or boxes of pasta, canned beans or vegetables and even spices are safe to eat long past their best by dates. As with most other food items, they may not taste as fresh or as potent (in the case of spices, for example), but you won't get sick from a tin of Romano beans months after its advertised best by date.

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Mary Luz Mejia

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