Food dating

Sorry, but this isn't a post about a new dating app where you are matched with someone with similar food tastes. Yay, you both like macaroni cheese covered in spring onions - you'll be married within the year.

Nope this is literally about the dates on food.

Sell by, best by, eat before, don't even dare... - are they safety measures or just a big con??!

I want your thoughts!!

What is your dating policy. Bin it or Brave it??

I believe that there are three distinct groups.

The Sticklers - if the packet says 26th March it means 26th March. It's in the bin / the dog by the 27th.

The Slightly Scepticals - these will push it for a day or two - surely no supermarket / retailer is going to risk being sued by not giving a little bit of leeway??

The Kamikazes - sod the dates - this group relies on smell, taste, appearance - with a smidgeon of russian roulette.. I'm in this group...

It's things like preserved or cured foods that get me. Such as Salami. Go into any of those foodie-heaven delis and they look that they've been hanging off the ceiling for centuries. Go into a supermarket and you get a couple of weeks lifespan on a packet of serrano ham, and not that much longer for a whole stick of salami - cured, dried meat. And cheese?? That's just curdled milk??! Off before you buy it! I'm sure I've read that penicillin mould is used to make the blue veins in Stilton.

I get that Philadelphia cheese spread might harbour some nasty bugs if consumed much after it's sell by date. (I've experienced mouldy Philly - I wasn't quite Kamikaze enough to enough to ignore the furry grey, black and green carpet topping) but hard cheese like Cheddar. You just cut off the dodgy bits don't you??.

Bit like jam - just spoon out the mouldy bits... Hmmm - bet none of my friends are going to eat at mine any more after reading this!!

Anyway, I thought I'd do some quick research.

When I asked my mate Google about the origins of cheese she (she's got to be a she!) came back with this, courtesy of 'Everyday Health'

"The story goes that a man once put milk in a pouch made from a sheep’s stomach. By the end of the day, as a result of being out in the sun and the materials of the pouch, the milk had separated into curd (cheese) and whey" Not quite what the Food Standards Agency would recommend.

With cheese, on the whole, the consensus seems to be that hard cheese can last a lot longer than the package dates and should normally have a 'best by' not 'use by' date on it,

Apparently the hard cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan etc can last up to a year...

Soft cheeses it seems carry on maturing even in their packaging (weird!) so can just become overripe (and over smelly) but they still generally have a 'best by' rather than a 'use by' date

I've even found a soft cheese expiration table on

You can freeze ALL cheese too - that'll give you an extra 6 months or so if stored properly. Maybe a bit rubbery - but on toast?? Fine!

There are a few different schools of thought re food storage - Stickler v Kamakaze perhaps?), and some of the recommended storage times are vastly different - eg a packet pf unopened dry salami - according to - could last up to 6 months in the fridge, yet only 7 - 10 days in the fridge according to (Hard salami much longer life according to both sites and can also be frozen)

I've even got expired tins in my cupboard - I thought they'd survive a nuclear holocaust. On checking - looks like you are allowed to double their shelf life!! So, cans with a 2 year expiry date can be held on to for another 2 years!! (if undented / rust free and kept in a cool, dark place)

I checked a few other popular foods too.

Chocolate?? Well apparently that NEVER actually goes off as there's no water in it that bacteria like to breed in- it just goes a bit of a funny colour (blooms - which are little white flecks). Dark chocolate especially is fine even 3 years later!!! (though best stored in a cool place or in the freezer)

Though can't imagine in what life someone will have 3 year old chocolate lying around uneaten.

Cereal - can be used up to 6 months after the best before date - though it may taste a little stale! You can bake with it though..

Bread? Can be kept for as long as you can't see any mould - ages if it's kept in the freezer..

Opened peanut butter - 3- 4 months after the expiry date when stored in a cupboard, 6 - 8 months in the fridge (less for natural peanut butter - 2 - 3 months)

Dry pasta? Generally a shelf life of 2 years, though can be pushed to three.

I found this fab article on the Guardian site about a guy in America who, after eating yogurt that was four months past its sell by date with no ill effects, decided to try eating very out-of-date foods for a year to see the what happened...

Have a read here...

So, in a nutshell - Use By dates are about safety - eat it after expiry and you may risk food poisoning.

Best Before dates are about food quality - you can usually use common sense and your senses to decide whether you want to chance eating it. Maggots crawling over it might say 'bin' for example.

Basically the more refined and processed a food is, the longer you can keep it past the expiration date, as can food that has been stored properly - usually in a cool, dry place.

But the final decision will also depend on whether you happen to be a Stickler, a Somewhat Sceptical or a Kamikaze..



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