13 Foods That (Basically) Never Spoil
Expiration dates are one of the most problematic parts of the growing issue our nation faces with food waste. Safety always comes first, but it's important to acknowledge that America voluntarily throws away over a third of its food every year. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that adds up to over $160 billion wasted annually.
How do expiration dates play into this, you ask? Because date labels like Sell-By or Use-By are not federally regulated, and should therefore always be taken with a grain of salt. "Confusion over the meaning of dates applied to food products can result in consumers discarding wholesome food," says the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on its website. "In an effort to reduce food waste, it is important that consumers understand that the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety. Food products are safe to consume past the date on the label, and regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food product prior to its consumption." The exception is for infant formula and some baby food, which do have mandated expiration dates for safety purposes.
As a brief primer, read over the list of the main types of expiration dates and their real meanings below, according to the FSIS.
- A "Best if Used By/Before" date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
- A “Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date, except for when used on infant formula as described below.
- A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
What is key to knowing whether a food or beverage is safe to eat is to inspect for signs of spoilage. Your nose knows: "Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor, or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten," states the FSIS.
So…where do we go from here? We concede the fact that there are a select number of foods that don't really go bad for ages, if ever. Sure, they might not taste or appear brand new, but as long as you're storing these pantry staples under the right conditions (i.e., avoiding heat and direct sunlight), you should be able to keep them for a very long time.