Is Expired Food Safe to Eat?

Is Expired Food Safe to Eat

Written by Julie

This post originally appeared in Home Ready Home

Last week, I went through my pantry, trying to get an idea of how much food storage I have. By the time the organizing session was complete, a dozen or so “expired” items sat on my kitchen counter.

In the past, I didn’t hesitate to throw a can in the trash if it was expired. And according to an article on Urban Survival Site, I’m not the only one tossing the goods. More than 75% (and some studies claim it’s as high as 90%) of us believe that food is unsafe to eat after the expiration date. This time, though, I’ve decided to change my ways and put the expired items back on the shelf.


Because it turns out that none of those dates stamped on canned goods have to do with safety.  A recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic claims that expiration dates aren’t regulated like we would believe. There is no standardized system for expiration dates.

The study found manufacturers determine for themselves how to set dates, if they want to put a date on packaging, what kind of date they will use, and what that date means.

So what do those dates mean? 

Well, it gets confusing because there are several different types of dates used on packages—like “sell-by”, “best if used by”, “best before”, and “use-by”. Here’s how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines of each of these dates:

Types of Dates

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

And here’s what the USDA has to say about expiration date safety:

Safety After Date Expires: Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always pertain to home storage and use after purchase. “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly.

The only exception to this is the “use-by” date on infant formula, which is mandated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The bottom line is after the expiration date, the food may not be as fresh and it may have lost some of it’s nutritional value, but generally, it is safe to eat.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking—if you can’t rely on the date, how do you know when the food is unsafe to eat?

The simple answer is open it and inspect it. If it smells bad, looks off-color or has a funny taste, get rid of it. And don’t eat the food from rusty, bulging, dented or otherwise damaged cans.

There are also some online resources that can help you determine shelf life of your pantry items. Eat By Date  is my favorite resource and here’s one that my friend, Shelle of Preparedness Mama refers to: Still Tasty 

These sites can help you avoid throwing away still-good food as well as learn the best way to store food for optimal freshness and longest shelf-life.

P.S. If you need a little help keeping your pantry organized, I highly recommend The Preparedness Planner.

The Preparedness Planner

About the Author:


Hi! I’m Julie, a suburban mom during the week and mountain mama on the weekend blogging about my transition from country club to country living and from fast food to food storage. Follow along as I learn how to garden, cook-from-scratch, build a pantry, master back-to-basics skills and more.
Please visit Home Ready Home for the latest posts.

Using Four Year Old Rice

FourYearOldRiceThis post is by Bernie Carr,

We are rotating the first batch of rice we stored away and replacing it with the new batch.  I bought the rice back in April 2010 but did not repackage it for for long term storage until November 2010.  Usually, rice that is left in a pantry with no special packaging will last one to two years.

Since this is the first time I am using my rice storage I was really curious as to how the mylar bag/oxygen absorber packed rice held up.  We don’t keep it especially cold in our apartment – usually 75-78 degrees, and it does get humid indoors sometimes.

First, Mr. Apt Prepper opened up the five gallon bucket.  I didn’t realize they are not the easiest things to open, which is actually a good thing, because you know the contents are safe.  After he released the plastic zip seal, he had to slowly pry open the lid with a butter knife.  It would have been easier to have a bucket opener so I added one to the Amazon wish list.

Rice in mylar bagOnce opened, we examined the mylar bags inside and found them to be the same as when we packed them nearly four years ago.  The bags were still very much air tight as they shrink around the food once the oxygen absorber activates.  When I opened a bag, I found that the oxygen absorber was still soft and fresh, and did not harden as expired ones do.  I poured the contents into a jar, and cooked up a batch.

Pouring rice from mylar bagThe rice tasted good and there was no difference in taste or texture at all.  I am really glad the process works, and feel confident the food storage will hold up for many years.

Buying food in bulk and repackaging it yourself is a cost effective way to store for emergency long term storage.  As long as you keep rotating your food, it will not go to waste.  If you’d like to get started repackaging bulk food for long term storage, the easiest method is described here.

© Apartment Prepper 2014

Rotate your Food Storage for your Upcoming Thanksgiving Feast

Rotating cansThis week before the Thanksgiving holiday, while you are planning your Thanksgiving feast, consider inspecting your your food storage and see if you need to start rotating some of your items.  I’ve only been prepping for a couple of years, but have found a few stored foods are starting to approach expiration dates.

So why not include some of your food storage items for Thanksgiving?

A few ideas:

  • Canned corn and green beans can be added to casseroles
  • Mountain House Noodles and Chicken makes a tasty meal all by itself
  • Use rice, chicken bouillon, dehydrated celery and dehydrated onion in your stuffing
  • Use your stored vegetable or olive oils before they go rancid.  Oils only last about a year in storage before flavor starts to degrade
  • Canned pineapple or peaches can be used for pies.
  • Flour and yeast can be used for your artisan bread

Conversation Starter

It’s a good bet that at least 80% of your guests will not be preppers, and may have misconceptions about stored food.   A lot of people still think that emergency food is mostly dry nutrition bars that no one likes.  While your guests are raving about your dishes, and talk turns to recipes and ingredients, casually mention that some of those tasty foods are actually from your storage pantry.   This may change their minds about the benefits of  storing foods:  convenient, delicious and cost-effective.

Review your Recipes Ahead of Time

As with any meal planning, you need to be familiar with the recipes you are making ahead of time.  Making something new that you have no idea how it’ll turn out may cause regrets.  I’ve had a few failures trying out new, untested recipes for a big event, so I don’t recommend it.  Use tried and true recipes especially if you are using food storage, and leave experimentation for another time.   Some good resources for planning meals:  The Prepper’s Pantry: Building and Thriving with Food Storage by Anne Lang and 100-day Pantry: 100 Quick and Easy Gourmet Meals by Jan Jackson.

Rotate your Stocks

I hate wasting anything, and using some food storage for a nice meal would be worthwhile.  Remember to replace what you just used with more recently purchased items.



For more preparedness tips, read my book:


What Expired Coffee Tastes Like

I was looking through my stored items and noticed my Starbucks instant coffee stash had expired.  I started accumulating supplies a couple of years ago, and sure enough, some of those expiration dates are starting to creep up.  This one expired in October 2010.


Expired Starbucks Instant Coffee

The package felt hard and dried and it seemed there were clumpy bits of instant coffee.  Normally being the coffee snob that I am I would have tossed it.  But what if that is all you have?  I decided to use it anyway.



Expired Starbucks Instant Coffee contentsI poured it into my cup and the coffee did fall out in clumps.  Then I poured very hot water into the coffee bits and started stirring…  and stirring… and stirring for a several minutes.  Those chunks took a while to dissolve.  You can still see bits floating.  Satisfied that most of it was mixed, I added cream and sugar.  I took a taste, and found out it wasn’t bad at all.   The taste was pleasingly strong and there was nothing odd about it.  Once the coffee was mixed with the water, cream and sugar, it was fine.

Expired Starbucks Instant Coffee Prepared

Expired Starbucks Instant Coffee Prepared-looks normal!

I am not going to take any more chances though.  I am rotating my stock by using up this expired batch within the next few days and replacing it with a fresh box.  Do I recommend making a habit of drinking expired coffee?  No, especially if you have a sensitive stomach.  I do recommend looking through your supplies and making sure you use them up in time.


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See What’s Inside an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat)


This post is by Bernie Carr,

Two years ago, we bought a few MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) as part of our food storage plan.   Because they come with a heating unit, MREs offer the convenience of being able to eat a hot meal in an emergency.  They also stack well in a small space. Later on, I found out about LRPs which are lighter and more portable than MREs, and stocked a few of those as well.

We noticed the expiration date on our MREs was 6/1/2012 so we decided to start rotating them.  The expiration date is not a firm date, it is more of a guideline.  However, you should always be aware of what’s coming up to expire in your food storage pantry to avoid problems later.

I thought I’d post about what I found in my MRE so I took photos.

The MRE included lots of items:

  • Veg Patty in BBQ Sauce
  • Clam chowder
  • Heating unit
  • Crackers and cheese spread
  • Shortbread cookie
  • Condiments such as tabasco sauce, salt, pepper
  • Coffee and creamer
  • Spoon
  • Tootsie roll

What I found curious was the packet was labeled Penne Pasta with Veg Sausage, but inside the package was “Veg Patty in BBQ Sauce”

The heating unit included instructions on how to use it.  All you have to do is add about 1/4 cup of water (to the line indicated)  insert the entree into heating unit, lay it down diagonally on an incline and allow it to heat.  I only heated the packet with the veg patty as I wasn’t sure whether the clam chowder would heat up.  I boiled water on the stove and warmed up the clam chowder packet in the boiling water.

The heating unit got very hot after a while.  After about 10 minutes, the food packet was ready to eat.  Here is what everything looked like:

Veg patty in bbq sauce

Clam chowder

Now it’s time to taste it.  I tried the veg patty first.  It was okay, but not something I liked very much.  However, if you are hungry and out in the field I bet it would seem a lot tastier.  The clam chowder was another story- it was actually pretty good.  I thought it tasted better than the average canned soup, and had lots of clams.  With all the food included in the MRE, the whole meal was pretty filling.  I saved the crackers and cheese for later.

Writing this article brought up some questions about MREs and food storage in general.  I’ll find out and will post about this in a few days.


© Apartment Prepper 2012


Expiration Date Experiment

This post is by Bernie Carr,

I was looking for something to make for dinner and found this Rice A Roni in my pantry.   I’d had it for a while and it was well past the “Best By” date, in this case, 10/2009.   How did this get past me?  I thought, “Hmmm.  Should I or shouldn’t I?”  So I did some research on the internet about “Best by” dates.

Technically, the item was not expired, it was past its “Best By” date.   This means the product is past its prime, and may have lost some flavor, texture or appearance.  I opened it, examined the contents and the rice/noodle mix looked fine.  The spice pack looked okay but had hardened a bit.  I cooked it according to the instructions.  When I mixed the spice pack with the rice and water,  it dissolved quickly.   When it was cooked, I tasted the rice and found it was tasty as ever.   So I ate it anyway.

I don’t recommend eating expired food, and I don’t want anyone getting sick from eating a food that had gone bad.

  • If it was a true “Expiration Date”  I would not have eaten it.
  • Fresh food such as meat, fish, dairy, cold cuts should be thrown out after they reach their dates.
  • Expired canned food that have dents, bulges or rust should be thrown out.
  • Don’t give young children, elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system anything past their best by or expiration dates.
  • Here is a link to the USDA website on Food Product Dating:  It had a lot of good information.  Food Product Dating

Lessons learned:

  • I need to be more vigilant about watching those expiration dates.
  • I marked all my canned food with a sharpie so the dates are now more visible.  I will mark the boxed goods as well.
  • I will place the foods with upcoming expiration dates in front of the shelf within easy reach.
  • If in doubt, throw it out.

© Apartment Prepper 2011


Survival Food Storage

After shopping around for bulk survival food and storage materials, I am finally ready to start storing.

First, I gathered up all my supplies on the dining table:

  • Food items such as rice, pasta, pinto beans, etc.
  • 5 gallon food grade buckets
  • 1 gallon size mylar bags
  • oxygen absorbers (300 cc)
  • measuring cup
  • iron
  • masking tape and sharpie marker for labeling
  • cardboard to place over the table (under the iron)
  • airtight jar to keep extra oxygen absorbers
  • bay leaves to ward against weevils
materials for long term food storage

Materials for long term food storage

The photo shows the mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, masking tape and jar.

  • A few things to note:  Before you start, set the iron to the hottest setting.  Make sure you set the iron on a covered surface to avoid burning.  I used recycled cardboard from a large pizza box, but you should determine what works best for you.
  • While these steps are doable with one person, it is easier to do them with two people, so you have someone holding the bag while the other person is ironing across.  My husband helped me out on this so it went a bit faster.
  • You will need to set aside a solid block of time to do this:  Oxygen absorbers start activating as soon as you open the package.  If you have to stop and leave them for later, you must store them in an airtight container or they will become useless.
  • DO NOT use oxygen absorbers for storing sugar.  This will cause the sugar to harden into a block.

We did the following to steps:

  1. Place one oxygen absorber in the bottom of the mylar bag.
  2. Pour 12 cups of rice (or whatever you are storing) into the bag.  I used a 2 cup measuring cup to as this was quicker than doing it one by one.
  3. Add another oxygen absorber and one bay leaf on top of the rice.  There should be about an inch clearance from the top edge of the bag to where the rice fills up to.
  4. Line up the sides and across the top of the mylar bag flat.
  5. Carefully iron across the top, leaving a 1 inch space open on the left corner.  Don’t worry, the iron will not stick to the mylar, it actually stays smooth.  Do not try to make a fold across the top and iron it:  we tried this and it does not seal as well.
  6. “Burp” the bag to let any remaining air out.
  7. Now you can iron the remaining space and seal it up.  Careful, as the iron can get too hot.  About an hour after we started, we noticed the bags were not sealing as well, then we realized the iron had gotten too hot and the automatic shut off activated.  Make sure your iron does not overheat.
  8. Label the bag with a sharpie pen.
  9. Place the mylar bag in the food grade 5 gallon bucket.
  10. Keep packaging the same food item into mylar bags following the above steps until the bucket is full.
  11. Seal up the bucket.
  12. Label the bucket.  I used a masking tape and wrote the contents of the bucket with a sharpie market.
  13. Store any remaining oxygen absorbers in an airtight jar.
  14. Store the bucket in a cool, dry area.  I cannot store food in the garage as we live in a hot and humid area.  Heat and humidity will shorten the life of stored food.  For now, the buckets are hidden under the dining table with a long table cloth.

Bulk food storageThe next day, you will notice the bags look shrunken.  This is the oxygen absorber doing its job.

That’s it, the process was actually easier than I thought.

A Way to Rotate Your Canned Food: Cansolidator Review

I happily won’s Cansolidator Giveaway a couple of weeks ago.  The item is the Cansolidator “Pantry” which fits 40 cans and is available from Shelf Reliance.   I’m not a paid sponsor, just reviewing the item since I have never used a food rotation item before.  As you know, I am always on the hunt for an efficient way to store our supplies, since we are always so short on space in our apartment.

We finally decided on a spot to place it and were ready to assemble the Cansolidator.

Here is what it looked like while sitting on our countertop, right out of the box:

photocansolidator1The instructions are pretty simple and I was starting to assemble it when my son got interested and decided he would do the assembly.   I was happy to oblige, as this gave me time to empty out the designated pantry shelf.  I actually found a few cans of chicken stock in the back that I had forgotten about.

Here is the way it looked getting assembled on the floor.


We started inserting canned goods into the Cansolidator and enjoyed seeing the cans slide down the path.  We then emptied it out and tried moving it to the shelf and found that… it didn’t fit! Oh no!  By now my husband was home and wanted to know what we were fussing about.   He measured the shelf and found it should all fit, it just needs to be assembled INSIDE the shelf instead of outside.  So they took it apart again and re-assembled.

Here is the first version:

photocansolidator3This configuration was okay but we found a lot of cans were left out.  So they took it apart and again and reassembled into the final version below:


Overall, the Cansolidator is a good item for organizing your pantry shelf.  I originally had the mistaken notion that it is a space saver.  It is not so much a space saver as it is a shelf organizer.  We checked the expiration dates and positioned the items with the closer expiration dates so it is in front of the shelf.   As far as the number of cans it can fit, it actually fit the same number of cans as when the cans were stacked on top of each other.   However, because you can see more of what you have, it will help avoid waste. It performs well as intended:  a food rotation system.  I found a few cans were close to expiration, so this makes me aware that they need to be used soon.

A few tips if you are planning to use the Cansolidator:

  • Measure your space before assembly, or you will find out the hard way, as we did.
  • Group your cans by brand, size and expiration dates ahead of time
  • The cans you have the most of will likely be housed in the Cansolidator to maximize the space
  • Assemble the Cansolidator in the space it will be housed in.

© Apartment Prepper 2010