What Happens If You Eat Expired Food?
Food Is Not Eternal
However, the most paradigmatic example is honey, which is even said to it has been found intact in the tombs of several Egyptian pharaohs.
That is why sometimes we throw ourselves into consuming some of the expired foods that we had in the closet, like that tarragon jar that we bought years ago to cook a new recipe and that we had never remembered again.
In reality, food is not eternal.
With time, they end up deteriorating, and that can make them unfit for consumption.
Eat Expired Food
This Occurs Mainly For Two Reasons:
1. Bacteria and other microorganisms capable of altering food or causing disease can develop.
For example, moulds can grow in honey if the humidity is excessive, which can cause unpleasant smells and tastes and pose a health risk.
2. Biochemical reactions take place in which the compounds that constitute the food participate, from which other
compounds are formed that alter the organoleptic characteristics (appearance, smell, taste, texture) or that pose a health risk.
For example, in honey, reactions occur between sugars that lead to the formation of a potentially carcinogenic compound called hydroxymethylfurfural.
To know the time during which the food is kept in a good state of preservation, producers must carry out shelf-life
studies, which consist of carrying out physical, chemical, microbiological, and sensory analyzes.
This way, you can get an idea of the evolution of the food over time.
When it stops being safe when it stays looking good, smell, taste, texture, etc.
In this way, a duration date can be established, which must be shown on the labeling (with the exceptions detailed at the end of the article).
It can be expressed in two different ways, depending on the case: expiration date and preferred consumption date.
Expiration Date Vs. Preferred Consumption Date
Micro biologically highly perishable foods – which can pose
an immediate health risk if consumed soon after their shelf life date – must have an “expiration date.”
This is what happens, for example, in a tray of fresh meat,
where pathogenic microorganisms such as Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus aureus can develop.
All other foods — that is, foods that are not micro biologically highly perishable and do not pose an imminent
health risk soon after the expiration date — must indicate a “preferred consumption date.
An important detail: both the expiration date and the preferred consumption date are only valid as long as we
respect the storage conditions indicated on the label (for example, “keep Cooled between 0 ° C and 4 ° C or “keep in a cool, dry place”).
Also, it is possible that the duration changes once we open the container because the food loses protection and is
exposed to the environment (microbiological contamination, oxygen, humidity, etc.).
For this reason, messages such as “once opened, consume within five days” are sometimes displayed).
Do I Eat It Or Throw It Away?
Finding food in the kitchen that is out of date usually leads us to a significant dilemma: do we eat it or throw it away?
The first thing we typically do to make a decision is to observe it, to see if it looks good, and smell it, to check if it has an unpleasant smell.
If the food passes our test, we consider it to be fit for consumption and decide to eat it.
But this behavior is an error that can cause us serious disappointments, especially if we are facing a food with an
expiration date, such as a prepared bag salad.
The reason is that many of the pathogens that can develop in food do not cause alterations in their organoleptic
characteristics, as occurs, for example, with Salmonella, Listeria, or Campylobacter.
In other words, that expired salad could look good and smell
good and still cause potentially serious illness, such as salmonellosis or listeriotic.
So we should not trust our senses.
If the expiration date has expired, it is wise to throw the food away, even if it appears to be in good condition.
This is something that seems to be still unknown to a good part of the population.
According to a report published by the Association of Manufacturers and Distributors (AECOC), the last year 2019,
43% of the people surveyed (51% if they are people over 65) believe that food is safe even if it has expired, to the point
that 73% say to consume them once their expiration date has expired.
With the expiration date, there is no doubt we must respect it.
But what happens with the preferred consumption date? In this case, a less strict interpretation can be made.
If the time since expiration is not very long, the food will most likely not pose a significant health risk so that it could
be consumed in principle, but with essential nuances.
There is a widespread belief that foods with this indication remain eternally safe, and all they do is suffer a
deterioration in their organoleptic characteristics, but this is not true.
Or, at least, not always. We can see it with some examples:
The egg is the only food whose expiration date is set by law: 28 days from laying.
According to a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), increasing the preferred consumption date by one
week increases the risk of Salmonella infections for raw eggs by 40% (remember that this pathogen does not alter the
organoleptic characteristics of the food).
Oils, fats, and fatty foods, such as olive oil, potato chips, or nuts.
When exposed to air or light, rancidity reactions have triggered that lead to the formation of compounds that
provide unpleasant (stale) odours and tastes, and that can be harmful to health if consumed in excess.
In this case, the smell is useful to detect it.
Dried foods, such as herbs, spices, paprika, or nuts. It is essential to keep this type of food in cool and dry places.
If humidity is high, molds can develop, some of which are capable of producing mycotoxins, very toxic compounds
that cause some types of cancer (for example, kidney or liver).
Molds are sometimes visible, but not always.
Canned fish, cheese, wine, sausages.
Over time, proteins and amino acids lead to the formation of bio-genic amines, such as histamine, which can cause
adverse reactions potentially dangerous to health (urticaria, diarrhea, hypo-tension, etc.).
These compounds are neither detected by smell nor destroyed by cooking.
What Should We Do?
We have no way of knowing if a food whose expiration date is still innocuous, so the ideal is always to respect the instructions on the label.
That is to say, and we should not reach the point of having to ask ourselves whether or not we can consume food that is out of date.
To avoid it, the first thing is prevention, with measures such as the following:
Sort the cabinets, the refrigerator, and the freezer to check the expiration date of the food we have,
removing those that have expired and put those with a closer expiration date in the most accessible part.
Take an inventory of the food we already have to improve its management.
For this, a paper and a pen are enough, but there are applications for the mobile that can significantly facilitate this task.
Plan a meal menu based on the food we already have.
It should be flexible enough to accommodate slight modifications if unforeseen occur.
Make a shopping list based on the menu that we have planned.
It is essential to stick to it as much as possible to avoid buying more items than necessary (it is something that can
happen with three × two offers, for example).
Take time to cook and develop enough culinary skills to be able to improvise,
if necessary (for example, if we discover that the bagged salad that we have in the refrigerator expires the next day),
and to be able to prepare dishes from the remains of foods.
About to Expire, What Do I Do?
If the planning has not been effective, and we are surprised
by foods that are about to end their useful life, we can take measures such as the following:Consume.
If we suddenly discover that the meat tray that we have in the refrigerator is going to expire the next day, we can choose to consume it at that time.
For this, it is recommended to plan the menu in a flexible enough way to be able to incorporate some unexpected change.
Cook. If today we cannot eat that meat that expires tomorrow, we can cook it and, once cold, keep it in the refrigerator for later.
Thus we will increase its useful life by three days.
If we cannot consume this meat at the moment or cook it to eat it in three days, we always have another more
straightforward and more effective option: freezing. Putting this meat in the freezer “stops time” since freezing stops the
growth of microorganisms and slows down the development of biochemical deterioration reactions.
Thus it can be kept in good condition for several months (between 6 and 12, depending on the circumstances, especially the temperature).
Then we must defrost in the refrigerator and cook within 24 hours.
In case of not arriving on time and finding a food whose date has already expired, we cannot solve it with the
alternatives that we have to indicate: freezing does not improve the state of the food or eliminate pathogens.
Cooking does kill most pathogens, but it doesn’t destroy
certain compounds, such as biogenic amines or heat-resistant toxins produced by moulds or bacteria.
That is, before a portion of food in this situation, the general recommendation is not to consume it because we have no way of knowing if it is safe.
In these cases, we must bear in mind that it is preferable to lose a few euros than to put health at risk.
On the other hand, this means wasting food, which is a
significant problem in industrialized countries (in Spain, about eight million tons are lost per year in 42% of households, that is, about 0.57 kg per person each week).
We must not forget that throwing food is a waste of resources and is equivalent to throwing money away.
To avoid reaching this situation, planning is essential, with measures such as those we have indicated.