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How Long Does Food Really Last?

Why the best-before date is only a recommendation

Even after the best-before date (MHD) has expired, most foods can still be eaten. As a rule, everyone can decide with the help of their own senses what is still edible and what is not.

The best-before date is merely a labeling requirement that the manufacturer must indicate on pre-packaged items under EU law. The best-before date indicates when the food is guaranteed to be edible without loss of quality or health risk if stored properly.

In other words: The MHD is only a recommendation from the manufacturer. After the MHD has expired, the seller’s warranty expires. But we can still trust our senses – smell, taste, sight, and touch.

What to look out for with which food:

Bread: Usually still edible after the best-before date. In the case of mold growth: dispose of the whole bread, as the toxins could already be distributed throughout the bread. Tip: Bread in one piece does not get moldy as quickly as sliced ​​bread. And: Light bread (i.e. with a high proportion of wheat flour) dries out relatively quickly, while rye bread stays fresh longer. It is best to keep it airtight at room temperature, for example in a bread pan.

Eggs: They can still be eaten after the expiry date – even up to two weeks beyond that! However, only cooked through and with an undamaged shell. Eggs floating in the water should no longer be used.

Noodles: Can be eaten without hesitation several months after the best-before date has passed.

Rice: White rice can be used for several months even after the best-before date has passed. Brown rice, on the other hand, can taste rancid over time.

Potatoes: According to the Food Labeling Ordinance, packaged potatoes do not have to have an expiration date. Therefore: It is essential to trust your sense of sight! When stored in a bright place, green spots appear, which are poisonous. These have to be cut off generously and peeled. It is best to store potatoes in a dark, cool, and dry place.

Fish (fresh): Store for a day at most! Never eat packaged fish with a BBD after it has expired! Be sure to observe the use-by date! Canned goods, on the other hand, can be kept well beyond the best-before date (if there are no deviations, e.g. in the smell, but also in the packaging).

Meat (fresh): As with fish: Only use up to the specified use-by date! Basically, beef can be kept for three to four days at 2°C (caution: refrigerators are often set to higher temperatures!). Consume pork after two to three days at the latest, poultry and minced meat also perish quickly. Veal can be eaten for up to three days. The following applies to every type of meat: If the surface is greasy or smells bad, it must be disposed of!

Sausage/ham: Smoked sausage, scalded or boiled sausage should be disposed of immediately if there are traces of mold! Unopened, packaged sausage products can be kept for a few days after the best-before date. What counts here is your own practiced sense of taste, sight, and smell!

Milk: Still drinkable a few days after the best-before date – as long as it still tastes good. Unopened after the expiry of the MHD usually even about three days. Once opened, fresh milk can also be stored in the refrigerator for three days and UHT milk for up to seven days. Be careful with UHT milk: it won’t go sour if it’s bad.

Cheese: Generously remove mold from hard cheese. Dispose of moldy cream and semi-hard cheese immediately!

Yogurt: Often edible after the best-before date has expired – throw it away immediately if there are signs of mold!

Kefir/buttermilk: If the lid foil bulges, kefir, and buttermilk are still edible. To blame for the bulge are only the living lactic acid bacteria – and they are healthy. However, as soon as mold is seen, the buttermilk and kefir must be thrown away.

Vegetables: Do not eat if they are visibly spoiled (e.g. mold, dark discoloration, change in consistency).

Mushrooms: Warmed mushroom dishes are still edible (after rapid heating). Bacteria will only form if mushrooms have been kept warm for a long time or left at room temperature. They then spoil faster – and should be disposed of after a maximum of one day.

Fruit: Since fruit contains water, possible poisons spread very quickly. As soon as mold is visible, the fruit must be discarded. Packed fruit (e.g. grapes or berries) should be removed individually from moldy and rotten fruit. Those that are further away must be cleaned well before consumption.

Nuts: Be sure to throw them away if the shells or kernels are moldy!

Seeds: Seeds such as chia or flaxseed that are infected with mold must be discarded. This is where particularly dangerous mold toxins (aflatoxins) form, which can lead to liver damage.

Compote and jam: Throw away if there are signs of mold! Unopened, they can be kept for a few months beyond the MHD.

Chocolate: It’s virtually indestructible 🙂 It can also be consumed after the best-before date has expired – only the quality of taste decreases more and more.

Baking powder: Can be kept almost indefinitely if sealed. Once opened, however, the blowing effect wears off after about a month.

Cereals (e.g. muesli): Generally edible for a long time after the best-before date. Dispose of it completely in the event of mold growth!

Canned goods: Can often be used years after the best-before date! If the lid bulges, throw it away! After opening, preserved or canned products have a shelf life of about three days, and slightly longer for acidic products. Tip: After opening, pour into an airtight container and store in the fridge.

Bagged soups: Often (unopened!) still good after the best-before date.

Sauces: Dispose immediately if mold forms, as toxins can spread quickly.

Flour: When stored in a dry place, it can still be kept for many months after the best-before date. Best storage: sealed. Warning: Whole grain products do not keep for as long. They often still contain the germ with high-fat content, so they can go rancid after a few months.

Spices: Dispose of dry spices past their best-before date if they are next to the hot stove and near water vapor – the perfect environment for bacteria and germs. Unopened dried spices, on the other hand, can be kept for a few months – only a loss of taste is possible.

Spirits: From an alcohol content of 10 percent by volume, the MHD does not apply. However, it is important that they are stored closed.

Beer: Can still be drunk after the best-before date. If it flocculates, it’s better to do without.

Wine: Usually does not have an MHD, as it has a different shelf life depending on the quality. After opening: can be kept for several days (wine oxidizes when exposed to oxygen and becomes undrinkable after some time).

Juice: Can be kept unopened in a glass for up to one year (!) after the expiry date, in a carton for up to eight months, and in a plastic bottle for up to three months. However, once opened, keep it at refrigerator temperature for only a few days.

Coffee, and cocoa powder: Sealed and vacuum-packed, they can also be stored after the best-before date. Once opened, however, they quickly lose their flavor.

Frozen food: Unopened, it can be kept for a few months beyond the best-before date if the cold chain is maintained.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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