What, exactly, is it about expiration dates on the packages of cookies or crackers, or expiration dates on canned food prod products? Actually, for what it’s worth, dozens of different kinds of expiration dated-foods can frequently be found on marked down grocery items and I veer directly towards them. I have found some fantastic sale items this way. In the fresh product section, I often find lettuce, yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy items marked down as much as half price. One of my best finds a year ago were large bottles of Karo light corn syrup for 75c—more than half off. Then I began thinking about all the uses for light corn syrup during the holidays –but when I went back to the store, all of those bottles of karo syrup had been bought. Now I try to pay closer attention. A similar situation took place when my daughter in law bought 2-lb bags of brown sugar. I bought 4 or 5 bags and when I went back to the store, intending to buy whatever remained –and they had all been sold. And the reason those items were marked way down was that the manufacturer was introducing a new plastic bag. And if you worry about having too many bags of raisins or brown sugar, you can re-bag the products into glass jars. The major complaint that I hear from friends or family member is that “the product inside won’t be any good” This is probably the food industry’s number one “the joke’s is on you”
The reason I wanted to share these letters with you was due to comments that appeared in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine March/April in -2012. I have been contending for years that canned food with long-ago expiration dates, no dents or flaws in the container—are still safe to eat. Two of my grandchildren check the dates on everything edible (consequently, if I am preparing a food with a canned food content, I put the canned food into a baking dish and bury the cans at the bottom of the trash can).
What did Cooks Illustrated have to say about this issue?
A subscriber wrote to say she recently used a can of chicken broth and later discovered it had a “best buy” date of several years past–but the product tasted fine and no one got sick.
Says Cooks Illustrated “The best buy” printed on some labels is not a hard and fast rule; it refers strictly to the manufacturers recommendation for peak quality, not safety concerns. In theory, as long as cans are in good condition and have been stored under the right conditions (in a dry place between 40 and 70 degrees, their contents should remain safe to use indefinitely.
That said, natural chemicals in foods continually react with the metal in cans and over time canned food’s taste, texture and nutritional value will gradually deteriorate.
The question is when. Manufacturers have an incentive to cite “a best buy” date that is a conservative estimate of when the food may lose quality. But it’s possible that some canned foods will last for decades without any dip in taste or nutrition.
In a shelf life study conducted by the National Food Processors Association and cited in FDA Consumer, even 100 year old canned food was found to be remarkably well preserved with a drop in some nutrients but not others….”
I’m sure there have been or will be studies to detract from the above study – my point is just this: I have grandchildren who read all the labels and if any of the cereal or other breakfast food has an expiration date of even one week, they won’t eat it. They have been so indoctrinated that no one can tell them any different. (So I transfer food, including cereal, to jars whenever possible. No expiration dates. No problem). But I am also a believer in moving canned foods around so that the oldest in the shelves is up front and will be used next.
This also brings me up to date on another kind of canned food product – those you make yourself, using up fresh fruit when you have an abundance of a crop—or when a friend has more apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes—or any other food they can’t use. Actually, it’s not a matter of having too many apples, tomatoes or whatever—but rather, it’s being gifted with the neighbor or friend’s overflow. I just love being presented with whatever overflow a friend or neighbor can offer to us; Last summer, I dehydrated chili peppers and green bell peppers—other bell peppers were converted into stuffed bell peppers that were cooked, then frozen. We froze an enormous amount of bell peppers and cooked fresh corn on the cob to have for dinners. We picked little red tomatoes and I converted almost all of these into tomato sauce. There is a huge amount of work but an equal amount of satisfaction for having converted vegetables into tomato sauce, canned tomato sauce with hot sauce added to it, working on tomatoes until I had done something with all of it.
We have been giving serious consideration to “what will be next”. Mind you, my garden was a fraction of the size of my son’s in 2013. A survey of all the jars of tomatoes and sauces is very satisfying. (And doesn’t even take into consideration the canning of fruit juices in preparation for jelly and jam making. But that’s another story!
Sandra Lee Smith