Is Eating Expired Foods Worth the Risk?

Most packages of food include a best buy date that helps stores and consumers know how long each item is safe for consumption. Eating foods that have expired might increase your risk for certain illnesses or conditions. If you are unsure whether you should eat something that you have kept past the expiration date, err on the side of caution and toss it. Foods that have an offending odor, flavor or appearance should not be eaten, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service says.

Effects of Expired Foods
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Nutritional Value of Unexpired Food

Foods eaten as soon as possible after purchase often taste better than older foods, and they might also be more nutritious as well. Sari Edelstein notes in her book, "Nutrition in Public Health: A Handbook for Developing Programs and Services," that eating food past its prime is often less nutritious than eating food when it is fresh. If you regularly eat food that has expired, you might be missing out on key nutrients. Even if the nutrition label indicates that a food is nutritious, it might not contain as much of each nutrient as the label suggests.

Avoid Food Poisoning from Expired Foods

Perishable foods, uncooked meats, dairy, eggs and prepared foods such as macaroni or potato salad, are the usual suspects when it comes to food-borne illness. But any food that is past the expiration date might lead to a growth of bacteria. It is always wise to check the expiry date on all foods you buy at the supermarket. And if you discover any of your food has expired, it might be healthier and safer to just throw it away.

Foods You Should Not Eat Past Expiration Date

Eating expired food can be dangerous due to a various forms of bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning. Store food properly so you won't experience the unpleasant and sometimes severe effects from expired food. Some of the foods that , when expired, commonly cause food poisoning are:

  1. Eggs: The most common cause of food borne illness is often from salmonella in expired eggs. The maximum time you should keep eggs in the refrigerator is two weeks.
  2. Deli Meats: Two dangerous bacteria, E. coli and Listeria, are prevalent in prepackaged and deli-sliced meats. If you eat deli meats that are more than a week old, you risk food poisoning.
  3. Mixed Greens and Alfalfa Sprouts: Leafy vegetables such as spinach, packaged lettuce, spring mix and arugula, as well as alfalfa sprouts can very quickly become covered in disease-inducing E. coli bacteria and should be eaten within 48 hours of opening the package.
  4. Oysters: When eaten past their expiry date, oysters can be downright deadly due to a bacteria called V. vulnificus.
  5. Fresh Berries: A type of bacteria called cyclospora thrive on fresh berries. Don't eat berries that show signs of mold or are mushy.
  6. Soft Cheeses: Although hard cheeses are not as prone to bacteria, soft cheeses such as brie, are not safe past the expiry date. If you eat soft cheese that has mold, you could end up with listeria food poisoning.

Read here for a full list of foodborne outbreaks investigated by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

Effects From Eating Expired Food

Eating food that has expired may not cause a serious illness such as food poisoning but it might cause mild to severe discomfort, depending on the bacteria involved. Gastrointestinal tract symptoms of food-borne illness may include severe abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea accompanied by fever, chills, headache, numbness of the skin and dizziness. Dehydration can also be a concern.

Fresh Food Tastes Better

Even if the expired food you eat is safe for consumption, it might not taste as good as if you ate it sooner. As time passes, the quality of the food declines, which decreases the taste. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service notes that many expired foods can be safe to eat, but they might not be as flavorful as if you ate them before the expiration date.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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