It’s a Christmas tale as old as time: Buying mammoth amounts of food and ending up with mountains of leftovers after the big day.
Some of us will find ourselves with fridgefuls of party food, meat, veg, and whatever else we stocked up on, and there’s always a worry that it might not be safe to eat.
I, myself, am no stranger to out of date food. I’ve eaten a two week past use-by yoghurt and live to tell the tale, so you could even say I was a bit of a pro.
Others aren’t so badass, however, and need some stricter guidelines on what will or won’t make you ill.
Official guidelines around use-by dates
According to the Food Standards Authority, you need to be very careful when it comes to the use-by date on your food. As far as they’re concerned, there’s no leeway on this, and even if items look and smell fine, they advise not cooking, eating, or freezing anything after that date.
However, they do say that best-before dates are a very different thing, and you can be a bit more lenient with them.
Essentially, best-before is just a quality marker rather than a safety marker. So, as long as it’s stored correctly, it might not be the tastiest but at least shouldn’t kill you.
The foodie’s perspective
While we couldn’t personally say you can eat out of date food, we can give you a bit of information on where there’s some wiggle room.
There are some methods of preparation that were specifically designed to preserve and keep food edible for a long time. Food writer and brewer Daniel Tapper tells Metro.co.uk: Sugar, salt, acid and smoke are all toxic to bacteria, which is why all four have been used to preserve food for millennia.
‘So it is generally – but not always – safe to enjoy foods like jams, chutneys, pickles, hard cheeses, cured meats and smoked fish beyond their use by date.
‘That said, the best way of telling if a food has gone-off is smell and sight. If a food has a bad aroma or looks as though it may have developed mould (beyond the small amount you would expect on the surface of some cured meats and cheeses) then it is probably best to avoid.’
That doesn’t mean letting everything go to waste, though, as you can use things up when they’re past their best rather than chucking them in the bin.
Daniel Tapper's tips for making the most of past-their-best foods
One study found that UK families throwaway the equivalent of 24 meals per month. The most wasted foods are bread, vegetables (particularly potatoes) and soft fruits.
But it’s easy to make use of all of these; overly ripe fruit is perfect for smoothies.
Spare veg can be used to make warming soups and freezable stock. And stale bread can be used to make breadcrumbs, croutons, toasties, panzanella and of course bread and butter pudding.
Things to definitely avoid after their dates are chicken, fish, soft fruits, soft cheeses, mixed greens, and pretty much any raw meat. According to Daniel, ‘E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter can be found in as much as 65% of fresh meat. As such it is absolutely essential to eat meats like chicken, pork and beef before their use by date.
‘Leave them longer than this and any bacteria present in the meat has time to multiply. Ground meat products like mince and sausages are particularly susceptible.’
There is the argument that many of these dates are put in place to reduce liability so retailers can’t be held responsible if you do get sick.
Essentially, if you do decide to walk on the wild side it’s very much at your own peril once you’re out of the safety window. So, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Are you a risk-taker when it comes to this? Comment below with the oldest food you’ve eaten for kudos/revulsion from our readers.