Thursday, March 4, 2010

Expiration Dates Mean Very Little

Continuing my paper topic research, I have gone to the source article for last week's Talk of the Nation interview. More interesting tidbits on why we should ignore the "sell by" or "use by" date on foods were presented by food critic Nadia Arumugam in her Slate Magazine article. She points out that "food starts to deteriorate from the moment it's harvested, butchered, or processed, but the rate at which it spoils depends less on time than on the conditions under which it's stored" ( The article illustrates several criteria for food expiration dates as well as how far past an expiration date a food is still relatively okay for consumption. Her article also notes that the dates printed on food are more about the freshness factor than the safety factor. Arumugam states that "to account for all manner of consumer, manufacturers imagine how the laziest people with the most undesirable kitchens might store and handle their food, then test their products based on these criteria" ( She goes on to say that menacing food-born pathogens like E. coli and salmonella are more important to worry about than the freshness and quality concerns of expiration dates. Pathogens like that have less to do with expiration dates and more to do with how food is handled and stored.

I am gathering from this article and last week's NPR interview that it would be wise to invest in a thermometer for my fridge and freezer to create the optimum storage environment for my foods. Reading up on proper food storage and handling guidelines could also prove to be of some use. More importantly, I should continue to employ my mother's good old "your nose knows" tactics when those pesky expiration dates just don't seem right. - Expiration Dates Mean Very Little


  1. Very interesting..I always thought the experation date was just so they could sell more product. I agree with you, if in dought...throw it out!!

  2. I also found this blog very interesting. It is good to know that under the right temperature foods will stay fresh, despite their tagged date. Though I must say, seeing the date there does make me wonder too much. I'd still throw it out or have someone else eat it if i noticed the date was old on the box.