The Truth About Expired Food: How Long Should We Keep It in Our Fridge? - Jiran

The Truth About Expired Food: How Long Should We Keep It in Our Fridge?

Discover ways to determine whether the food you are eating is still safe for consumption

Published on 9 June 2022

You have been toiling at your workplace non-stop and must finally give in to the rumbling of your tummy. Trailing to the fridge, you find that most of the food has already passed the expiry date written on the packaging. What do you do? 

If you are anything like the average Malaysian, you would recall mummy saying that anything in the fridge can still be eaten and finally satiate your hunger. Or you may be put off by the dates and opt to throw out the food entirely. But have you ever wondered whether your mother’s wisdom is factual and not an old wives’ tale?  

To prevent throwing perfectly good food out which causes food wastage, or to avoid consuming something that could lead to an upset stomach, it is time to uncover the truth about food expiry dates. 

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One too many dates 

You may have noticed different dates marked under different labels such as EXP, MFG, and Best Before. These are called date-labelling phrases, and it is the responsibility of a food business to ensure that the products on the shelf are safe for customers to consume.  

Common phrases that are found on food packaging: 

Best Before: It is important to note that this is not a safety date. It simply indicates when a product is best consumed before the quality or flavour begins to deteriorate. 

Sell-By: This is not a safety date. It is meant for management, sellers and store owners to gauge the duration of displaying the product on shelves. 

Use-By: This date labelling is open to much debate. On one hand, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims that it is an indicator of quality whereas the European Commission suggests that it indicates the cut-off time for a product to be consumed. Whichever it is, it is best to play it safe and discard the product to prevent food poisoning. 

EXP (Expiry or Expiration): This is a clear-cut indication of when to eat the food. It is a safety date that you should take note of when deciding whether to consume the product.  

Before you tell your mother she is wrong, there is truth in her claims. Keeping in mind the dates and the indication of these labels, we can make informed choices to prevent unnecessary food wastage and prepare ahead of time to extend the longevity of the products we have purchased. 

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Best practices for food storage 

Some families are big eaters whereas some can barely finish what is on their plate; some families like the same snacks and some prefer a variety of tidbits. Preferences inevitably lead to buying more than necessary which may result in not finishing the food prior to the date on the food package. If you cannot seem to finish your food by then, here are some options for you to consider. 

1. Put it in the fridge or freezer 

Most food items, especially vegetables and meats, may maintain their freshness longer thus resulting in longer shelf life. Bacteria and pathogens do not thrive under cold conditions. This also applies to food prone to mould such as dairy products, bread, and packaged foods.  

2. First expired, first out (FEFO) 

The collective understanding is to finish whatever goes into the fridge or onto the shelf first, aka first in, first out. Rather than basing it on the time of purchase, make your decision based on freshness. 

Shelf-life prediction utilises our knowledge of date labels and prioritises the quality and freshness of the food items purchased. For example, although the apples were purchased first, berries tend to have a shorter shelf life and spoil quickly. This makes it possible to reduce food wastage.  

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3. Store in airtight containers 

Malaysia has a humid and occasionally dry climate. With the change in temperatures and varying humidity, the moisture in the air will cause food items to spoil and the heat may cause them to dry out. 

Using airtight containers to store your pantry items as well as raw foods will prevent the development of rancidity as food kept in these containers does not encounter oxygen. Moreover, some fruits and vegetables produce enzymes that may cause other foods to spoil quickly. Separating them into airtight containers prolongs the ripening process which prolongs shelf life. 

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