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Thread: "best by" dates on canned goods....grrr.

  1. #1

    "best by" dates on canned goods....grrr.

    So I was planning to make CL's Caramelized-onion lasagna with gorgonzola sauce, which calls for 2 cans of FF evaporated milk. What do you know, I have exactly two in my pantry....why I bought them, I don't really know. I thought I was all set, until for some reason I looked at the bottoms of the cans, and each one said "best by 31 May 2006." Hmm...poured them into a bowl, they smelled fine, consistency seemed fine (as far as I could tell -- not terribly experienced with FF evaporated milk), I'm thinking they're fine, but then I start questioning whether the color is off -- kind of a light yellowish-tan.

    I almost posted here this morning to see if anyone had an opinion, then I thought to myself, "sheesh. It is 3 months past -- just dump it and spend a couple of bucks on fresh."

    So I bought 2 new cans, poured them into another bowl, and yep...same consistency, same smell, same color. The $2.40 or whatever I spent didn't exactly break the bank, but I just hate wasting food. Am I supposed to assume that "best by" means it will still be just fine in 3 months?? or 6 months?? or a year?? or more?? I've tried to look this up online (admittedly not too hard because it's been a busy day) but everything I've found is quite vague.

    Just thought I'd post this because I'm sure someone else here will understand!

  2. #2
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    I live dangerously and definitely would have used them, especially if they looked/smelled ok and only being May 2006. Now maybe if they were like more than a year old, I may have hesitated....
    Everyone needs to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer. . .

  3. #3
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    "Best By" is not an expiration date, it is a date past which the manufacturer thinks the product will not be at its absolute best. As far as I know it is not an FDA-regulated stipulation, it's just the manufacturer's best estimate. I have eaten all sorts of canned and packaged goods past the "best" date; sometimes I thought it might be a little stale (as in crackers) but certainly not anywhere near inedible.

    Of course, I'm sure the manufacturers are not displeased that people do exactly what you did -- worry that the product is somehow "bad," toss it out, then go out and buy more.

  4. #4
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    I was one to always toss things out at the stroke of midnight on the expiry date, but lately have been more daring. Just a couple of weeks ago, I used Eagle Brand sweetened condensed that expired in April and am living to tell the tale. I also even used cream cheese that espired in July for the same recipe. I took the sniff and vision test and all looked well. Since it was all being baked too, I wasn't going to worry. I never would have done any of this a year ago. As long as the item was store properly and the can is not damaged, you should be fine.

  5. #5
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    I tend to stretch the "best by" dates quite a bit. For instance, I have some cans of coconut milk that were "best" back in 2005. I'm slowly using them up.

    On the other hand, I tend to adhere pretty closer to expiration dates on milk products. I'll use it a few days over if I am 100% sure that it smells OK.

    Eggs...another story. I don't use by the date and I don't know why it doesn't bother me. I'll let them go for about 1-2 months past expiration.

  6. #6
    I KNEW I was being paranoid. I knew it, I knew it! But of course I convinced myself, if I'm going to be using good cheese & wine, and slicing and caramelizing, and stirring and thickening, and doing all this fussing over this dinner, and then have it ruined because I used some (pretty cheap) products three months beyond their "best-by" date, I would really be mad at myself.

    It's just frustrating because those meaningless dates stamped on cans really caused me to doubt my own senses -- and common sense!

    Thanks for letting me vent. My husband doesn't want to hear this after a rough day at work & long drive home.

    BTW, the lasagna was actually somewhat disappointing, after all. Even my husband remarked that it smelled so amazing when he walked into the house, he was expecting something really incredible, but it was just...good. We'll be eating the leftovers for the next couple of days, though, so we'll see if it improves with "age."

  7. #7
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    If it's not rusted or bulging, I use it
    Thoreau said, 'A man is rich in proportion to the things he can leave alone.'

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by blrn1
    I KNEW I was being paranoid. I knew it, I knew it! But of course I convinced myself, if I'm going to be using good cheese & wine, and slicing and caramelizing, and stirring and thickening, and doing all this fussing over this dinner, and then have it ruined because I used some (pretty cheap) products three months beyond their "best-by" date, I would really be mad at myself.

    It's just frustrating because those meaningless dates stamped on cans really caused me to doubt my own senses -- and common sense!

    Thanks for letting me vent. My husband doesn't want to hear this after a rough day at work & long drive home.

    BTW, the lasagna was actually somewhat disappointing, after all. Even my husband remarked that it smelled so amazing when he walked into the house, he was expecting something really incredible, but it was just...good. We'll be eating the leftovers for the next couple of days, though, so we'll see if it improves with "age."
    Man do I feel really stupid after reading this thread. I noticed a jar of unopened low fat mayo in my pantry that was 5 or so months past its "best by" date, and that motivated me to clean out the whole thing. 4 garbage bags full of canned and boxed goods past the date later, I find this thread that says I could have kept what I still wanted. My pantry is really organized now though.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by funnybone
    I was one to always toss things out at the stroke of midnight on the expiry date.
    Again, a Best By date is not an expiration date. Neither is a Sell By date, or any of the many other dates you see on foods.

    Here is a summary of what different dates mean, and a little chart showing how long certain foods are good based on those dates.

    http://www.foodlinkny.org/pdf/Nutrit..._Brochure1.pdf

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by wallycat
    If it's not rusted or bulging, I use it
    That's pretty much my philosophy too.

    Use your eyes and nose and they will usually serve you pretty well.

    Except for that condensed milk - it does look kind of funny, doesn't it? I seconded guessed myself on that once too.

    blrn1 - Don't feel bad. Today's alarmists have conditioned you to feel paranoid! The guidelines they put out are - IMO - very extreme. Some people might want to take the better safe than sorry, and that's fine, but I think it's okay to trust your instincts most of the time.

    Just the other day I used a jar of Nutella that was a year past its date or more (usually even I get squeamish if it goes this long, so I was hesitant). Looked fine, smelled fine and boy did it taste fine too.

    funniegrrl - Thanks for the link.

  11. #11
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    My husband tends to be the one who's more paranoid. I always figured that if the stuff actually turned toxic at some point they would be required to put a far more alarming label on it <g>, and tend to ignore the dates on canned things.

  12. #12
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    I agree... if it has chunks in it, and shouldn't; if it smells "off" or looks "off", I'll pitch it. I've purchased so much stuff for recipes, then lost the recipe, that my cupboard has lots of stuff that's past a 'best by' date -- I figure that there are lots of other things to worry about!
    Kay
    I'm a WYSIWYG person -- no subterfuge here!

  13. #13
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    I'll be rearranging my pantry in the next couple of weeks (I do this twice a year as it gets unorganized as time goes on). Thinking back, I've tossed out dried pasta that I thought was too old in the past. But why? It has to be boiled to be eaten, thus killing any bacteria that may be on it, and plain pasta tastes yucky without sauce anyway, so how could it really be bad?

    Fresh ingredients are obviously different. They definitely have a more limited in shelf life. It doesn't take long to determine whether a cucumber or tomato is off.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by funnybone
    Thinking back, I've tossed out dried pasta that I thought was too old in the past. But why? It has to be boiled to be eaten, thus killing any bacteria that may be on it
    But would something like pasta really develop bacteria or would it just be a matter of it going stale? Pasta just doesn't seem like a breeding ground for bacteria.

    It would be interesting to know which foods can go bad as in "inferior quality" versus which can go bad as in "don't eat this you can get sick".

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by lindrusso
    But would something like pasta really develop bacteria or would it just be a matter of it going stale? Pasta just doesn't seem like a breeding ground for bacteria.

    It would be interesting to know which foods can go bad as in "inferior quality" versus which can go bad as in "don't eat this you can get sick".
    I don't know if pasta could have bacteria on it, but I just added that in the event that it could, the boiling water would surely kill it.

    Most products I think have the date on them for the "inferior quality" reason rather than the "make you sick" reason like you mentioned.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by wallycat
    If it's not rusted or bulging, I use it
    hehehe.....ditto!
    *Susan*

    "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries."

    A.A. Milne

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by funniegrrl
    Again, a Best By date is not an expiration date. Neither is a Sell By date, or any of the many other dates you see on foods.

    Here is a summary of what different dates mean, and a little chart showing how long certain foods are good based on those dates.

    http://www.foodlinkny.org/pdf/Nutrit..._Brochure1.pdf
    What a helpful chart! I will be adding this to my special cookbooks that I give to Brides to Be.

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