Here's What Expiration Dates Really Tell You About Your Food

I have a confession to make. This morning I put protein powder in my smoothie that expired in July. Oops. I feel fine, so perhaps expiration dates are just a suggestion. If you've been wondering, when does milk go bad? This is the truth about expiration dates on food and drinks. Are you ready? According to an ABC News affiliate in Greenville, North Carolina, you can eat many foods long after their expiration date. "Food safety and public affairs groups, including the Food Marketing Institute, say you can safely keep many foods for months or even years past the 'best by' date that's printed on them," Valentina Wilson reported.

Phew! This is good news since the my protein powder expired five months ago. A YouTube video posted by College Humor explained that for many products the expiration date is actually a recommendation for when the product will taste best. According to Mental Floss, different states have different rules about how milk and other foods are labeled for freshness. "Sell by" means that's the last day the milk can legally be sold, however you can still drink it after this date. "Use by" indicates the recommended date that you should consume the product by.

While rule of thumb is that milk is generally good to drink for up to five days past the sell by date, you might want to do a smell test and a small taste test before you down a glass of cow juice that's a little ripe if you have a weak stomach because — wait for it — milk actually won't hurt you even if it tastes spoiled. However, the taste of spoiled milk might make you throw up. Because milk is pasteurized, even if it smells like a foot, it's not likely to make you sick.

College Humor noted that food safety experts agree that you can eat eggs for up to five weeks past the sell by date. As far as canned and dry, boxed foods go, it turns out that Freida Berlin, the inmate who built the underground bunker in the latest season of Orange Is The New Black, was right. Canned good and boxed foods can be eaten indefinitely. So, if you've got these items in your zombie apocalypse kit, they're not likely to spoil.

However, if you don't keep your cold foods refrigerated properly they can grow harmful bacteria and actually expire before the recommended date. Again, this is where you need to use your judgment. Once, I bought some baby back ribs, and when I unwrapped them to put them on the grill they smelled like a decaying corpse. Clearly they were spoiled even though the package said they were still good for another week. If it smells like armpits, you probably don't want to eat it.

If you think those expiration dates are protecting you, think again. According to Web MD, the only item actually mandated to have an expiration date is infant formula. Everything else is voluntary. If you really think about it, most of the wording for so-called expiration dates sound like gentle recommendations. For example, the phrase "best by" indicates that the food or beverage will test best by a certain date, not that you will keel over if you consume if after said date.

In fact, some "expired foods" are donated to food pantries after they can no longer be sold at super markets. "[Companies] will ask that the grocery chains remove the food from the shelves, and those chains will then donate the food to us, and we will do a quality check to make sure it's in our guidelines," George Young, Eastern regional director for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, told WCTI News 12. "It's a shame we waste a lot of food in this nation because we're following these dates, when in fact, the food is good a lot longer."

So, as long as you store your foods properly, you can consume many items after the expiration date, though they may not taste as good. As long as the food hasn't spoiled, you'll probably be just fine. This mean that you don't have to purge everything in your fridge as often. Personally, cold cuts freak me out after a day even thought they are perfectly safe to eat, but I have no problem putting expired protein powder in my smoothie. Basically, it's all about your comfort level.