Scientists have revealed the foods that are safe to eat past their ‘best-before’ date – including one snack that lasts up to two years after expiry.
Food safety is a major issue in Australia, with 4.1 million people reporting food-related illnesses each year along with more than 30,000 hospitalisations, according to the national Food Safety Information Council.
To avoid these situations, experts say the most important thing to consider is whether a food is stamped with a ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ date.
Use-by dates are given to perishable and potentially unsafe products such as seafood, meat and chicken, which should never be eaten after their use-by due to the risk of food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and listeria.
Best-before dates are commonly found on less perishable items such as spreads, sauces and dried fruit, as well as dry staples including flour and pasta.
These dates are a good guide to a food’s longevity, but experts say they are just that – a guide – with many others factors to consider.
Scientists have revealed the foods that are safe to eat past their ‘best-before’ date, including sundried tomatoes (pictured) which are said to last up to six months beyond expiry
Australian Food Microbiology chief microbiologist Craig Andrew-Kabilafkas told Daily Mail Australia the true shelf-life of a product depends on where it was opened.
‘It’s totally different from kitchen to kitchen because the bacteria in household environments, and indeed in us as humans, is different,’ Mr Andrew-Kabilafkas said.
He described best-before dates as ‘reasonable estimates’ of how long food will retain its quality, but warned they are by no means definitive.
Shelf-life experts from consumer website EatByDate claim non-perishable foods can last anywhere up to two years past their ‘best-before’ date once opened, provided they are stored in the fridge.
Olives can last three to four months beyond the date stamped on the packaging, they say, while sundried tomatoes can last up to six months and store-bought hummus up to 10 days more.
The website claims pasta sauces can last anywhere from five days to two weeks beyond the best-before date, while pickles can last as much as two years past expiration as long as they are stored in the fridge in a tightly sealed container.
How long is it safe to eat food past its best-before date once it’s been opened and stored in the fridge?
Olives – Olives last 3 to 4 months beyond best-before date if opened, and up to two years beyond the date if unopened.
Sundried tomatoes – Opened sun-dried tomatoes and powder last up to 6 months past their best-before date in the fridge.
Pesto – Store-bought pesto will last 7 to 14 days past its best-before date, while homemade pesto will last for 5 to 7 days.
Milk – Between five to seven days once opened. Consume within use-by date. Can be frozen for 3-4 months.
Nuts – Will have an extended shelf life of up to 12 months in the fridge. Can also be frozen for 12-24 months.
Tomato paste – Up to 45 days past best-before date, provided the packaging is not dented or lumpy.
Hummus – Store-bought hummus can last 3 to 10 days past best-before date, while homemade versions should be eaten within three to five days of making it.
Pasta sauce – Tomato based sauce can last 5 to 10 days past best-before date; cream based sauce for 7 days; and oil based sauce for up to 2 weeks.
Fresh fruit and veggies – A maximum of 3 to 5 days past best-before date.
Hard cheese – Anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks past best-before date.
Shredded cheese – 3 to 4 weeks.
Pickles – Up to 2 years past best-before date.
Sauces and spreads – Most should be used within 6 months of opening, regardless of expiry date.
Chicken stock – Unopened liquid stock can have a shelf-life of up to one year past its expiration date, but once opened, this falls to just 5 days.
Shelf-life experts say olives (pictured) can last three to four months beyond the date stamped on the packaging
Mr Andrew-Kabilafkas said you can shorten or prolong the shelf-life of products by how you treat them.
‘The manufacturer works to ensure that when food leaves the store, it’s in the condition the customer expects,’ he said.
‘But after that it all comes down to handling. Milk, for example, will spoil faster if you drink from the bottle, leave it sitting on the countertop for long periods or store it in the door of the fridge which is warmer than the body.
‘These are actions and changes that manufacturers have no control over, so the dates are really just a reasonable expectation of what might happen.’
Hard cheese like parmesan (left) is said to last three to six weeks past its best-before date, while tomato based pasta sauces (right) can last up to 10 days
Food scientists say pickles (pictured) can last as much as two years past expiration as long as they are stored in the fridge in a tightly sealed container
Mr Andrew-Kabilafkas advised keeping highly perishable foods such as meat, cheese and hummus in the body of the fridge – the coldest part – and leaving things like soft drinks in the door, which is warmer.
Regardless of handling, the nutritional value of food may be affected once it goes past its best-before date, Mr Andrew-Kabilafkas said.
But while the quality may change, the food is still safe – provided you are happy to eat it.
Understanding the difference between ‘use-by’ and ‘best-before’
* Date marks give a guide to how long food can be kept before it begins to deteriorate or may become unsafe to eat.
* The two types of date marking are use by dates and best-before dates. The food supplier is responsible for placing a use by or best-before date on food.
* Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date.
* Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.
* Most foods have a best-before date. You can still eat foods for a while after the best-before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality.
* Foods that have a best-before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.
* The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a baked on or baked for date if its shelf life is less than seven days.
* Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, e.g. some canned foods, do not need to be labelled with a best-before date. This is because it is difficult to give the consumer an accurate guide as to how long these foods will keep, as they may retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil.
Source: Food Standards
Unopened chicken stock (pictured) can have a shelf-life of up to one year past its expiration date, experts say, but once opened, this falls to just 5 days
As thousands of Australians worriedly stockpiled the likes of flour, mince and canned vegetables in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lydia Buchtmann from the Australian Food Safety Information Council shared a guide about safe consumption.
Ms Buchtmann told Good Food that ‘as a general rule of thumb’, once a food is open it should be replaced ‘every couple of months’.
‘Things like condiments are low risk, but sauces like mayonnaise contain egg, which can be dangerous if left too long,’ she said.
Things that are usually safe to eat past their best-before date include dried pasta, canned goods, biscuits, chips, hard cheese, salad leaves and chocolate, she added.