There are certain foods that can pose risks when consumed past their expiration date — meat and milk, for example. But other foods, such as expired chocolate, are OK. However, keep in mind that the flavor and texture of old chocolate may make it as good as inedible for some.
You can eat expired chocolate, but its color and texture may be a turnoff.
Eating Expired Chocolate
If you look at your favorite chocolate bar or chocolate candy, you'll typically see a "best by" date, not an expiration date. Don't confuse the two. An expiration date means the food is possibly unsafe to eat past that time. But the only food required by the USDA to have an expiration date is baby food.
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Other products, such as milk, have a "sell by" date, which means stores must sell the product by that date or take it off the shelves. According to the Second Harvest Food Bank, if stored properly, the food is still perfectly safe to eat past that date. When the food exhibits signs of spoilage, including an off odor or texture, then it should be tossed.
Chocolate candy doesn't require refrigeration, and it has a long shelf life. A "best by" date on a chocolate bar wrapper simply means that after this date the candy may not be at peak quality — but it's still perfectly edible.
Read more: The 11 Best "Clean" Dark Chocolate Bars
Changes in Expired Chocolate
Just because it's safe to eat doesn't mean you'll want to eat it. Certain changes happen to chocolate that is stored for a long time, especially if it's not stored in proper conditions — such as in areas that are too hot or cold. These changes affect the bar's color and texture, which can be off-putting.
For example, if you've ever found a chocolate bar in the back of the pantry and thought it was your lucky day, only to unwrap it and find it had a white discoloration, you've experienced a common change that occurs with expired chocolate. In the industry, this is called "fat bloom," and it's harmless, reports the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Fat bloom occurs when liquid fat — typically cocoa butter — migrates to the surface of the chocolate and crystallize. Manufacturers have struggled to figure out how and why fat bloom happens and how to stop it, without much success. However, according to the authors of a study published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces in April 2015, it has to do with the porosity of chocolate. Reducing porosity could help decrease or prevent fat bloom.
Read more: The 10 Best Organic Chocolate Bars
Storing and Eating Chocolate
But all that science doesn't help you when you want a chocolate fix, and your chocolate has a weird white coating. Chocolate can dry out too, making it not all that pleasant to eat — bloom or no.
The best thing you as a consumer can do is store chocolate properly, in a cool, dry place with a temperature of 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, recommends Rady Children's Hospital –San Diego. Unless you're doing a science project to see fat bloom in action, avoid fluctuations in storage temperature which can speed up the process.
A good way to prevent expired chocolate is to eat it. But keep your health in mind. Chocolate is a treat best enjoyed in moderation due to its high fat, sugar and calorie content.
Dark chocolate is the healthiest type — the darker, the better. Cocoa is a rich source of plant chemicals called flavonols that may help improve heart health, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It's also a rich source of iron, copper, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.
Harvard suggests choosing chocolate that contains 70 percent or more cocoa content for the most health benefits. If you're used to eating milk chocolate, dark chocolate will take some getting used to. It does have a more bitter flavor, but in a good way — akin to a flavorful dark coffee or espresso. Eat a small amount, slowly, taking the time to savor its rich complexity.
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Food Product Dating"
- Second Harvest Food Bank: "Shelf Life Guidelines"
- American Association for the Advancement of Science: "X-Rays Reveal How Chocolate Turns White"
- ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces: "Tracking Structural Changes in Lipid-Based Multicomponent Food Materials due to Oil Migration by Microfocus Small-Angle X-ray Scattering"
- Rady Children's Hospital–San Diego: "Candy Experiment: Chocolate Bloom"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Dark Chocolate"