Is Selling Past-Date Food Illegal?

Is Selling Past-Date Food Illegal?
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Is Selling Past-Date Food Illegal?

According to an article on NPR's The Salt, many foods are marked with dates simply so the products are eaten in their prime. Health is less of a factor than taste.

Still, certain foods do last longer than others.


In an interview with NPR, John Ruff, president of Chicago's Institute of Food Technologists, explains that even when it comes to dairy, products that are starting to spoil won't hurt you. Instead, they may just not taste very good.

Canned Food

Canned food can last a long time -- a very long time. In 1974, a 40-year-old can of corn was opened for a study, "Nutrient Composition of Historical Canned Food Samples," published in the Journal of Food Science. Not only did it look and smell very similar to traditional canned corn, but it retained most of its nutritional value! As long as the can was in good shape, it would have been safe to eat.

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According to shelf-life guide StillTasty, eggs can be safely eaten after the expiration date. They typically last for three to five weeks from your purchase date. If you'd like them to stay good for more than five weeks, feel free to freeze them!

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When stored in a pantry, packaged bread can last for five to seven days past its printed date and six months after the date when it is stored in the freezer.

Tomato Sauce

If unopened, tomato sauce can last for up to one year past its stamped date. If opened, only keep refrigerated sauce for five to ten days. If you ever see mold, throw away the entire jar.

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Baby Food and Formula

The only expiration dates controlled by the federal government are those on baby formula and baby food. While you do not need to follow other foods' printed dates strictly, never feed a baby expired food or formula.

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Have you ever been to a surplus or salvage grocery store? If not, you may be surprised to learn that some of these shops are selling standard foods past their printed date (or foods that are too damaged to be sold in a traditional grocery) at a discount price.

Some community members in Albuquerque felt that same sense of surprise when they found past-date items at a local surplus store, according to an article on Albuquerque's KRQE News 13. The store hosts a range of past-date items -- everything from salad dressing to apple sauce to sausage.

Many assume that these past-date products are dangerous -- filled with bacteria or prime for causing foodborne illnesses. As it turns out, eating foods past their "Best By" date is typically ok for your health. If a food is marked with a past-date stamp, the food could potentially taste different, but most will not be dangerous until much after the printed date. Many can last up to two years, according to KRQE. Foods with expiration dates, on the other hand, are more serious as they spoil much more quickly.

Beyond the health factors, the practice of selling foods past their printed date is actually ok as well. It is not illegal to do so. In fact, many soup kitchens serve foods that have recently passed their printed dates, but also train the employees to look for unfit products.

The lines of approval start to get a bit blurry surrounding past-date medicines. Like food, selling past-date medicine is not actually illegal, but ingesting expired medicines can in some cases be poisonous, and the medicine is often less effective. The Food and Drug Administration recommends avoiding past-date drugs.

The Albuquerque store causing all the hype also got on board with the FDA's recommendation. Initially selling past-date medicine in addition to food, the store decided to take it off the shelves until more research had been done, according to KRQE.

Check out the slideshow above to find out which foods you need to toss when and which stay good for a very, very long time.

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