The bottom of a can of food with a date stamp.

The myth of the expiration date

Let’s talk about “expiration dates” on food. Note the quotes. There is no such thing as an expiration date on food!!

A little history. I worked at the Oregon Food Bank for several years. I was responsible for food safety at over 1000 food distribution sites. As you can imagine, I did a lot of research around the longevity of shelf-stable food.

There was a whole other team making decisions about the perishable stuff! The last thing we wanted to do was give away food that would make people sick.

Here’s the truth about those dates you see stamped on every kind of food: there is NO UNIFIED SYSTEM! There are no federal guidelines! Some states have rules about the life of various types of food, but those are patchwork at best. 

The dates are provided by the food industry and indicate the date at which “freshness” and “flavor” may begin to degrade. I mean….

I HATE the idea that people are throwing away perfectly good food because they think that it suddenly becomes toxic after a randomly assigned date.

Here are a couple of great articles on the subject – the first is a deep dive into the subject, the second a series of guidelines with which I mostly agree.

Remember – you have a sense of smell for a reason! Your nose and mouth are generally all you need to determine whether something is safe to eat. That’s what our species relied upon for tens of thousands of years.