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Surely at the back of the pantry you have found some honey that has been stored for years, some rice that has been stored for years and some dried fruits that you can’t even remember how long they have been out of the sun. Also, possibly, when you open the fridge, you have found some eggs or milk that you don’t know if it is healthy to use… because yes, again, you are not sure how long they have been there.
While there are some foods where it is highly recommended to follow expiration dates firmly, such as meats, seafood and baby food (especially if you haven’t frozen them properly), there are some others where you can take license to consume after their expiration date.
The truth is that many of the expiration dates are only approximate or recommendations that the manufacturer gives so that the consumer has an estimate of when a certain food will cease to have the highest possible quality.
If you have honey, vinegar and some extracts such as vanilla, corn syrup, sugar and salt and different spices stored in the pantry do not worry, these practically do not spoil (or take many years to do so). However, although they can still be consumed, it is advisable not to take so many years to use them as they can lose their nutrients. The same happens with oils, they can last a long time if they are in a closed bottle or can and far from the stove. But it’s all in the smell. As soon as you see that an oil smells rancid, it is better not to consume it, regardless of its expiration date.
Renowned chef and writer James Kenji Lopez-Alt, wrote in The New York Times that even cut oatmeal flakes last a long time to eat (more than a year), but that pre-cooked or instant oatmeal can last almost forever.
As for flours and grains, Chef López-Alt assures that “more white equals more time”, that is to say, that white flours will last much longer than a whole wheat flour, because when they are refined, fats are eliminated, which are the first ones to spoil. It is for this reason that dried fruits, although they can last many months if you keep them in a dry and fresh place, they can spoil soon if you do not preserve them properly or if you do not freeze them, since they contain many fats. As for lentils, black or white beans and chickpeas, they can also last for a long time, however, the more time passes, the harder they will become and the longer they will take to cook.
Regarding breads, Chef López-Alt points out that supermarket breads, which contain fats and preservatives, can last a few weeks in the refrigerator. However, sourdough breads spoil very quickly. The best thing to do here is to cut it and freeze it, so you can eat it for weeks.
Interestingly, the chef claims that eggs can last a long time in the fridge (as long as they are not in a very humid environment). The best way to tell if an egg is expired is by its smell. Open it and smell it. We all know the smell of rotten eggs. However, milk is a beverage that spoils very quickly once it has been opened. As soon as a container of milk is opened, it starts to spoil. We should drink it within a few days, or store the milk closed in a cool, dry place.
What you should be very confident about is canned and preserved foods. They can last for years and years. But be careful, they will always last longer if they are in metal than in glass and if they are in a dry and cool place. The chef recommends that as long as there are no signs of deterioration, such as rust on the container, stains or bulging, or mold or strange odors inside, they can always be consumed.
All of the above are recommendations and estimates and everything will depend on the conditions in which they are preserved. Although many foods can be consumed past their expiration date, it is always best not to let so much time go by, since there is nothing like eating fresh and nutritious ingredients.