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Is canned food no good after its ‘best by’ date?

Posted by John Reed on

Copyright 2013 John T. Reed

Because of hyperinflation risk, I recommend that take put as much of your money as possible out of the US dollar (USD) and USD-denominated assets and it into hard assets and selected foreign currencies.

Perhaps the first hard asset you should buy is food. Some would be normal stuff that you buy in the grocery store. Generally, that stuff has relatively short “best by” dates. If those dates are dates after which the food becomes inedible, you need to rotate that food to make sure you et it before it goes bad.

However, with regard to canned food in particular, the best by date on the can is misleading. What does it mean to you? Perhaps nothing.

A cover story in the 9/19/13 San Francisco Chronicle essentially says the dates has “nothing to do with safety” according to Washington DC correspondent Carolyn Lochhead. She says the dates are only for retailers’ inventory control. In some cases, she says it’s a guess s to the peak quality date.

She quotes a food science professor from the U. of Minnesota as saying “none of the [best by dates] reflects edibility or safety.”

The title of the article is “America wasting masses of food.” You can often Google such titles and find a digital copy of the article.

The professor’s verdict is “If food looks rotten and smells bad, throw it away, but just because it reaches a certain date date does not mean the food in unsafe.”

NPR also did a story on this subject: 12/26/12 “Don’t fear that expired food.”

I must comment that the “best by” date does not say “expires.” So this title repeats the incorrect translation that people are improperly making inside their heads when they see a “best by” date.

The NPR story is based on interviews with the National Food Laboratory. None of the experts can remember anyone becoming ill from eating old canned food. Basically, if it’s bad, the appearance and/or smell after you open it give it away and you don’t eat it. They have tested canned food that was 40 years old and over a hundred years old. It was still good and safe to eat if not optimal.

I would add that you must not buy or keep food where the can is dented or otherwise damaged. I would also urge readers to keep their canned food at or below 75º Fahrenheit.

And I must add that I am talking here about canned food, and canned food where you need a can opener to open it, not pop-top cans or microwaveable containers or mylar packages. The issue in this article is not “best by” dates but only “best by” dates on sealed metal cans.

My conclusion is do not throw away canned food if the cans are undamaged. The older it is, the more you should take a close look and smell before you eat it. Perhaps, in the event, if and when normal food shopping is impossible you eat the not-yet-past-the-“best by”-dates stuff first.

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