So can food past “best before” dates be eaten?
In a nutshell, yes – but at your own risk. Using your senses to judge whether a product has gone bad is key, experts said.
They advised to visually check if anything is growing on the product in addition to using your sense of smell and taste.
“Food that is spoiled … sometimes (during) the earlier phase you may taste alcoholic, acidic or bitter notes,” said accredited nutritionist Chan Joy Seng.
The director of Alive Nutrition Consultancy pointed out that food could undergo physical, chemical and microbiological spoilage, all of which could manifest visually.
Chemical spoilage is when chemical reactions occur to spoil the food. Whether such food can still be eaten depends on the kind of chemical spoilage.
“Some of them could be just affecting appearance, taste and texture. Some of them could have long-term health effects, (like the) oxidation of oil (rancidity), even though we may not get direct food poisoning from it,” he said.
Microbiological spoilage is caused by the growth of microorganisms on the product, such as mould, bacteria and yeast. Consuming such food may result in food poisoning.
There is a chance that the food has not changed in appearance but has already gone bad.
“So that’s why sometimes it’s actually quite difficult to assess. For example milk … so if you actually put it in the fridge for a long time and it’s gone beyond expiry date, it could still look the same without any significant change in flavour at the beginning,” said Mr Chan.
“But there could still be micro-organisms that … grow to spoil and change the flavour of the product. For example, lactic acid bacteria present will ferment and produce acids that cause milk to curdle and also have a sour taste.”
As such, Mr Chan does not recommend that people consume food past expiry dates.
Dr Siti said that in such cases, consumers may refer to credible websites that provide databases of food storage guidelines, such as the United States government’s food safety website.
Does food beyond “best before” dates still have nutritional value?
Mr Chan said that for plant produce, nutrients usually degrade slower than the product’s appearance.
“So even for fresh produce that may look quite dry and start to wrinkle … while they could have some nutrient loss compared to really fresh ones, it’s still not as great of a decrease compared to the differences in appearance,” the nutritionist said.
The most sensitive nutrients for foods are generally vitamins, with vitamins C and B more sensitive to heat and oxidation. Minerals, carbohydrates and proteins are more stable.
“Vitamins are usually sensitive … minerals are all the way at the other end, even if you throw something in the furnace, burn it into ash, the minerals are still there,” said Mr Chan.