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CNA Explains: Best before, use by, expiry dates – can you still eat food past these dates?

CNA Explains: Best before, use by, expiry dates – can you still eat food past these dates?

So, can you eat food after the “best before” date?

In short, yes – but at your own risk. Using the senses to assess whether a product has gone bad is key, experts say.

They advised to use the sense of smell and taste to visually check if something is growing on the product.

“Food that has gone bad… sometimes (during) the earlier stage you can taste alcoholic, sour or bitter notes,” said accredited nutritionist Chan Joy Seng.

The director of Alive Nutrition Consultancy pointed out that food can undergo physical, chemical and microbiological spoilage, all of which can manifest visually.

Chemical spoilage is when chemical reactions occur that spoil food. Whether such food can still be eaten depends on the type of chemical spoilage.

“Some of them can only affect the appearance, taste and texture. Some of them could have long-term health effects, (like) oil oxidation (rancidity), although we may not get direct food poisoning,” he said.

Microbiological spoilage is caused by the growth of microorganisms on the product, such as mold, bacteria and yeast. Eating such food can lead to food poisoning.

There is a chance that the food has not changed in appearance, but has already spoiled.

“So sometimes it’s actually quite difficult to judge. For example milk… so if you actually put it in the fridge for a long time and it’s past its expiration date, it might still look the same without any significant change in taste to begin with,” said Mr. Chan.

“But there can still be microorganisms that … grow to spoil and change the taste of the product. For example, the lactic acid bacteria present ferment and produce acids that cause the milk to curdle and also taste sour.”

As such, Mr Chan does not recommend that people consume expired food.

Dr. Siti said that in such cases, consumers can refer to credible websites that provide databases of food storage guidelines, such as the United States government’s food safety website.

Does food after the “best before” date still have nutritional value?

Mr Chan said that for plant-based products, nutrients usually break down more slowly than the appearance of the product.

“So even for fresh produce that can look quite dry and start to wrinkle … although they might have some loss of nutrients compared to really fresh, it’s still not that big of a reduction compared to the differences in appearance,” he said nutritionist.

The most sensitive food nutrients are mainly vitamins, with vitamins C and B being more sensitive to heat and oxidation. Minerals, carbohydrates and proteins are more stable.

“Vitamins tend to be sensitive … minerals are all the way at the other end, even if you throw something in the oven, burn it to ash, the minerals are still there,” Mr Chan said.

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