Slate: Food expiration dates are often worse than useless


I enjoyed Nadia Arumugam's article in Slate about the bogosity of food expiration dates. I eat "expired" food all the time, trusting my nose and my eyes to let me know when food has gone bad. In fact, I find aged food to be tastier than fresh food. Give me a bowl of sauerkraut teeming with bacteria over a fresh green salad any day.

Expiration dates are intended to inspire confidence, but they only invest us with a false sense of security. The reality is that the onus lies with consumers to judge and maintain the freshness and edibility of their food–by checking for offensive slime, rank smells, and off colors. Perhaps, then, we should do away with dates altogether and have packages equipped with more instructive guidance on properly storing foods, and on detecting spoilage. Better yet, we should focus our efforts on what really matters to our health–not spoilage bacteria, which are fairly docile, but their malevolent counterparts: disease-causing pathogens like salmonella and Listeria, which infect the food we eat not because it's old but as a result of unsanitary conditions at factories or elsewhere along the supply chain. A new system that could somehow prevent the next E. coli outbreak would be far more useful to consumers than a fairly arbitrary set of labels that merely (try to) guarantee taste.

Ignore Expiration Dates"Best by," "Sell by," and all those other labels mean very little.