The “best by” date on your milk says 9/30/16, so you better toss it, right? After all, that was last month. Not so fast. Do you really trust those dates on your food? If you do, you shouldn’t, because that means you’re tossing out perfectly good food.
Expiration dates are not set in stone, unlike coupons. When it comes to food, those “sell by,” “best by,” and other expiration dates are simply an estimate. It’s an estimate as to when the food will lose quality – and not necessarily go bad altogether. So when exactly should you toss that bread or throw out the rest of the milk? Here’s a guide to help you.
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That carton of eggs has been in the fridge for almost a month. Is it time to throw them out? You can find out for yourself quickly and easily with this test. Fill a glass with water and place an egg in it. If the egg sinks, it’s still good. If it floats to the top, it’s bad and should be tossed. If it’s somewhere in between, you can still eat it, but try to use it within the next day or two for best results.
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Milk can be a little tricky to determine its freshness. You might notice a foul smell or chunks. But if it’s past the expiration date and you’re still worried it might be bad – and you don’t want to taste it and find out – try this trick. Get a cup of hot water and pour a little bit of milk into it. If the milk is bad, it’ll rise to the top in chunks. That means it’s bad. Tip: Chunky milk = not good. Liquids should not become solids.
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Mold means that your bread is no longer edible and should be tossed. Many people simply cut around the mold if there’s a small amount on one area of the slice. While this may seem OK in theory, bread is porous, meaning it can spread mold easily. The other slices in the loaf of bread may contain mold and you might not even know it. Tiny mold spores are invisible to the naked eye but can cause food poisoning. You don’t want to mess with food poisoning, so if you’d rather be safe than sorry, just toss the entire loaf. But if the bread has become dry but not moldy, you can probably still use it for croutons if you’d rather not waste it.
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Like bread, dairy products are also susceptible to mold growth. You may be able to cut around it if it’s minor, but if things are getting quite fuzzy and you can’t even tell what kind of food it was originally (Was it cheese? Yogurt?), then get rid of it. Try not to keep moldy food in your refrigerator too long, as the mold can spread to other foods.
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Fruits and vegetables don’t come with expiration dates anyway, but you should still be aware of the signs that they’re rotting. You can often tell by appearance. If you notice your fruit becoming mushy or growing mold, then it’s time to trash them. Fruits may undergo a change in texture, and while you may not want to eat a soft apple or orange, you can still use them to make jam, if canning is your thing. Discoloration is also common when foods are going bad. If it’s turning green, that’s not a good sign. They might also be slimy or wrinkly. Odor is another sign. If it smells bad, don’t eat it.
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If meat is uncooked and changes color when you take it out of the fridge, that’s not something you should be too concerned about. That’s actually normal. What’s not normal? Meat that’s slimy or sticky. You can try the old sniff test as well. It’s easy to tell if meat has gone bad just by smelling it. If it has a foul or rancid odor, then you need to toss it. With cooked meat, look for a slimy film. You might not be able to smell anything. In either case, don’t second-guess yourself and try to taste the meat. Rotten meat can cause serious food poisoning, so don’t risk it.
It’s sad when good food goes bad, but that’s just part of life. Sometimes that jug of milk is left out all day or the cucumbers you forgot about wither away in the crisper. It can be hard to toss it – who wants to waste food and money? – but your health could be at risk if you still try to eat it. On the other hand, don’t simply toss your food because of a date. The lesson here? Judge your food by its cover, not its expiration date.