DEAR DR. GOTT: Can a person hurt himself by eating canned fruit or food after the expiration date listed?
DEAR READER: The only canned items required to actually carry an expiration date on labeling are infant formula and some baby foods. Listing expiration dates is voluntary, and those voluntary guidelines vary from state to state. Some packaging might provide a “sell by,” “born on,” “guaranteed fresh,” “use by,” “best if used by” or “pack” date — the latter indicating when a product was canned or packaged.
Consider milk that is sometimes good for almost a week after the sell-by date, or eggs that are good up to five weeks — as long as the label reads a sell date several days into the future when you purchase them. Poultry and seafood should be cooked or frozen within a day or two of purchase, while beef and pork should be cooked or frozen within a three- to five-day period. I had a discussion with a gentleman behind the meat counter of my local grocery store who indicated some products arrive frozen and are thawed before being displayed. He has personally purchased some of these items for his own use and frozen them a second time without benefit of cooking and has never had a problem. I must say this goes against everything I have always been told, but I guess people do it.
And now, on to canned goods. Canned vegetables and low-acid foods have been tested and found risk-free for up to five years, as long as they have been stored in cool temperatures. Humidity can speed deterioration. Spaghetti sauce and other foods with a higher acid content can be kept a year and a half, perhaps longer. If a can is bulging, it should be discarded, because that is an indication that bacteria are likely to be present. Become a savvy shopper. Check dates, rotate your canned goods, and when in doubt, throw it out. Common sense must prevail.