Expired Soup?
April 7, 2004 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I was in the midst making Tater Tot Hot Dish last night when I discovered I had no cream of mushroom soup. I went to the pantry for a substitute and found a can of Campbell's cream of chicken soup stamped May 2001. What does this date mean? Use by? Best by? What about a can of soup stamped Sep 1997? Could I eat that? Is there a rule of thumb for dates on food packaging? I have lots of old food around...
posted by jdroth to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
I have no idea about the soup, but I am hella interested in what constitutes 'Tater Tot Hot Dish'
posted by pieoverdone at 4:14 PM on April 7, 2004

My brother tried to use dry pancake mix -- I think it was Bisquick -- from 1991 a few months ago and produced something truly inedible.

This site says this about date stamps:

Safety and Sanitation: In the Store

Food dollars are wasted if food becomes spoiled and unsafe to eat. This may be caused by poor food handling, either at the store or at home. There are ways that you can reduce this food dollar waste.

Select unbroken packages, undented cans.
Check expiration dates on refrigerator/ freezer items and on cereals and mixes. The date stamp on the products can mean many things. Learn which of the following applies:

Pack Date - the date the product was manufactured, processed, or packaged.
Pull or Sell Date - the last recommended day of sale that allows sufficient time for home storage and use. Example: "Best when purchased by (date)."
Freshness Date - the date after which the product is not likely to be at peak quality. Example: "Sell by (date)."
Expiration Date - the last day the product should be eaten or used for assured quality. Example: "Do not use after (date)."

I think once you've exceeded the date stamp by a matter of years, as opposed to a matter of weeks or months, you should use some caution!
posted by onlyconnect at 4:22 PM on April 7, 2004

Yes! Yes! Recipe please. I love tater tots and I love cream of mushroom soup.

And if you have anything with a date of 1997 on it, I'd just throw it away. Food's just not meant to last that long.
posted by MsVader at 4:23 PM on April 7, 2004

I'm rather new to the concept of Tater Tot Hot Dish myself. (Thus my ineptitude in preparing it.) Apparently "hot dish" is Midwestian for "casserole". Tater Tot Hot Dish is nothing more than Tater Tots layered over ground beef and cream of mushroom soup. It's damn good. Except when I make it. (The recipe I used is on my weblog, but there are dozens of similar recipes floating around the net.)

As for the pull dates, etc.: my wife and I are great hoarders of food, and we have shelves of cans and packages from years gone by. I'm sure that, like onlyconnect's brother, we have thirteen-year-old Bisquick someplace, too. Surely some of this food is still good?

As an aside: the oldest food I ever ate was some hot chocolate on a Christmas morning several years ago. We were at the house of my wife's grandmother. I mentioned that hot chocolate sounded nice, and her grandmother said, "Oh, I think I've got some here." And she did. In an old can from the mid-sixties we found the last couple of teaspoons and we made some hot chocolate.

It wasn't very good.
posted by jdroth at 4:32 PM on April 7, 2004

I don't like mushrooms myself and prefer to substitute Cream of Broccoli instead of Chicken in my Tater Tot Casserole and Green Bean Casserole... but Mushroom and Chicken are the Cream soups that are lower priced AND get the best coupons... now, what was the question?

I've been noticing that the Kraft Dressings and Mayo and Miracle Whip have lately been sold pretty close to the stated expiration date on the labels, especially noticable when a coupon promo brings them down to a dollar a bottle/jar. So much for 'stocking up'. (Yes, I consume Miracle Whip, and Catalina Dressing too... so shun me)
posted by wendell at 4:42 PM on April 7, 2004

As long as it doesn't have any crab in it, you should be fine.
posted by bshort at 4:58 PM on April 7, 2004

I've found that dry stuff (like that Bisquick mix) is usually good well after expiration or sell-by date. Anything with "cream" in the name (or that has mayo or eggs as an ingredient) I would dump, but I probably wouldn't dump old/expired greenbeans canned in water or anything like that.
posted by amberglow at 5:16 PM on April 7, 2004

Anything over a year old has lost most of the nutrient value you might as well be eating piss and cardboard. The only reason it even lasted that long to begin with was because all the enzymes and most of the nutrients have been cooked to death and sealed off so even a "fresh" can isn't exactly healthy food. This is why people are overweight and sick in America. We keep feeling hungry because we dont eat nutrient rich foods so we load up on dead food loaded with empty calories. Stay away from processed food, that includes just about anything in a can or box.
posted by stbalbach at 5:27 PM on April 7, 2004

Anything with any fat in it will turn rancid over time thanks to oxidation.
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:28 PM on April 7, 2004

i've found cans of cream of somethings to not bode well past their expiration dates. if it's close, crack it open and see what it looks like. stuff that's gonna taste bad, generally looks bad. not that cream of stuff is that visually stimulating to begin with.

the rule, and it's a good one, is:

when in doubt, throw it out.

that being said, i've gone to make tater tot hotdish and found myself with no good cans of the flavor i wanted, you'd be surprised how easy it is to just pick a different flavor and just "spice around it".

how we make it in these parts (southern mn originally)

tater tot hotdish:

one big bag o cheap tater tots (tater tots being a name brand)
one can green beans (sliced, chopped, whatever)
one pound ground beef (cheaper cuts are fine, you're just gonna dump more fat on it anyway so using 99 percent lean kinda defeats the purpose)
one can cream o whatever trips your trigger (i prefer chicken, but it violates my wife's decree of mixing kinds of meat in a dish)
one package o that onion chip dip mix (or onions, this is just a staple ingredient of most hotdishes i was reared on)
cheese (cheddars good, or as you are comfortable bringing to a cashier)
phone number of preferred cardiologist (while this DOES contain green vegetables, they whimper next to the other stuff)

pre-cook the big bag of tater tots (otherwise they get too soggy)

layer one half of the tater tots on the bottom of what every hotdish sized pan you can find.

drain green beans and layer them over the tater tots. cooking them doesn't hurt either.

cook up the ground beef, drain, and mix in the can of cream o whatever

layer the beef/cream (YUM! it's GRAY! like GRUEL!) over the greenbeans

layer the remaining tater tots

shred the cheese and top the whole thing off

cook till golden brown. depending on how ya like your cheese, hold off on adding it for more goo, or more crunch.

hot dish yum!
posted by jeribus at 9:03 PM on April 7, 2004

one pound ground beef (cheaper cuts are fine, you're just gonna dump more fat on it anyway so using 99 percent lean kinda defeats the purpose)
No, not necessarily. After crumble-frying ground beef, I rinse it under hot water in the sink directly from the pan into a collander. The meat, and thus the fat, is still hot enough for the water to rinse a very large portion of the fat away.

Also, since what you want is the lean portion of the ground beef, if you compare the prices of the cheap stuff with the lean stuff by dividing by the percent that is non-fat, quite often the lean stuff is actually cheaper per pound.
posted by mischief at 5:12 AM on April 8, 2004

I wonder if one could use ground turkey breast or beef-substitute soy crumble thingies in this instead of the ground beef... because if there are two comfort foods in my life that have gone too long uncombined, it's tater tots and cream of mushroom soup.

I thought stuff in cans lasted forever and ever? Even if creamed? Isn't that why they put canned food in fallout shelters, so we can all enjoy pumpkin puree and cream of broccoli soup post-apocalyptically? If you're supposed to toss even canned food after a couple of years, what are we going to eat until the radiation levels are safe?
posted by jennyb at 8:28 AM on April 8, 2004

jennyb.. you can make canned food at home. Take a mason jar, add food, put in a pressure steamer, seal.. same exact process used in factories. With that said, would you trust that food for more than a year sitting on a shelf?
posted by stbalbach at 4:56 PM on April 8, 2004

Ummm... yes?

"Canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of processing. Canned food retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color and texture. Canning is a high-heat process that renders the food commercially sterile. Food safety is not an issue in products kept on the shelf or in the pantry for long periods of time. In fact, canned food has an almost indefinite shelf life at moderate temperatures (75° F and below). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe! We don't recommend keeping canned food for 100 years, but if the can is intact, not dented or bulging, it is edible."
posted by jennyb at 1:44 PM on April 9, 2004

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