soup for my family - can I eat it?
November 16, 2020 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I have a couple of liter boxes of soups that expired this summer. Can I eat them if they smell okay? Or is it a situation where I should just toss them and not look back? The soups are vegan, if that makes a difference. Complication: I have a fairly sensitive system that I really do not want to upset, but am not sensitive to anything in the soups.
posted by bile and syntax to Food & Drink (11 answers total)
I would not hesitate, particularly if there was not meat or seafood in the soup. Expiration dates are not regulated and really don't refer to anything other than the manufacturer's certification of top quality before the assigned date is reached - it does not imply spoilage after that date. Different manufacturers have different dating schemes, and nobody, nobody is overseeing them.

I just cleaned out a basement full of stockpiled canned goods for an elderly aunt who died, leaving a houseful of stuff for me to deal with. Expiration dates meant nothing to her - I threw out cases of stuff out of date by 5 or 6 years (!), and she used them without hesitation. Now that I wouldn't take a chance on. A few months for a shelf-stable (not refrigerated) product wouldn't concern me at all.
posted by citygirl at 4:01 PM on November 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would probably eat them.

The rule of thumb that I use in these cases is to estimate by what fraction of the food's normal lifespan it is past its best-by date. Something that normally stays good for 2 weeks, I wouldn't trust much more than a few days past its expiry date. Something that's good for 18 months I'd probably still trust a few months past the end date.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:20 PM on November 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

"Use by" is an expiration and you don't actually see it very often; "Best by" is more of a "this will meet our production QA standards up to this date", after which you may not get the best flavor, texture, or color but the product is by no means unsafe.

Particularly with the aseptic box packaging, it is VERY obvious when something has gone wrong - the box will swell, it's pretty obvious just looking at it but you can also feel the pressure if you touch it. If there had been a manufacturing flaw, you likely would have seen spoilage long before the Best By date.

If it was more than a year out of date I'd open and decant into a good container under strong lighting to take a look and smell before proceeding, especially if it had been stored in suboptimal (hot and/or sun exposure, or if it might have frozen I'd be concerned but if the box isn't leaking it's probably fine) conditions. A couple of months, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:22 PM on November 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

That is absolutely a best by date and not a bad after one and the companies that make prepared soups like that are very conservative in terms of when they think the taste will be not as good and the lifespan before the container itself might fail.
posted by Candleman at 4:55 PM on November 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I used to get my groceries from a place that took expired food like this and redistribute it. The food you are describing would have been on the shelves no problem.
posted by aniola at 5:47 PM on November 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Since nobody has linked it, here's the US FDA information on food labeling dates, law s and guidelines.

They say:
With an exception of infant formula..., if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident

And go on:
USDA estimates that 30 percent of the food supply is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer levels3. One source of food waste arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about the meaning of dates displayed on the label.

Given the amount of food MeFi apparently throws out every day, I wish this was more commonly known.

In case it's not clear: you are almost surely totally fine to eat that nice soup, and the (super conservative) US FDA has your back on that.

Enjoy! Or mail to me :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:59 PM on November 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

If you're still concerned - I do some home canning, and several of my canning books AND the CDC all say that if you boil something for 10 minutes (a decent rolling boil), that should be enough to kill any bacteria that might be in it.

So if you're hesitant, maybe open it and smell first - if it smells bad, toss it and don't look back. But if it smells okay and you still want to play safe, dump it into a pot, bring it to a boil and then cover it (so it doesn't concentrate down) and let it boil for ten minutes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:21 PM on November 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

This may be a sidebar, because I think the soups you're talking about might be in TetraPaks, but actually-canned, in-cans, food is safe forever. (As long as the can has not been compromised.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I worked at a grocery store in college. A large part of my diet was 'expired' canned goods that were written off for staff. I was pretty fast and loose with food safety, and this was one of the less concerning things I ate.

You'll be fine.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:14 PM on November 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you're still concerned - I do some home canning, and several of my canning books AND the CDC all say that if you boil something for 10 minutes (a decent rolling boil), that should be enough to kill any bacteria that might be in it.

Just a note that if you already have dangerous levels of bacteria, boiling will still leave toxins that can cause food poisoning. It's why you need to kill everything before canning; you can't make it safe after the fact by boiling it for a while.
posted by mark k at 7:47 AM on November 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Thanks everyone! I bought them (no surprises) in the great panic right before the stay-at-home order and then forgot about them over the summer, because hot soup is not my favorite in the heat.

I will go ahead and enjoy these delicious soups, provided they smell okay.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:51 AM on November 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

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