Using the food products prior to the expiration date does not guarantee the safety of a food if it is not stored properly, and a product is not necessarily unsafe after the expiration date if stored properly.
Associate Professor Lim Bee Gim, programme director of chemical engineering and food technology at Singapore Institute of Technology, told Mind&Body editor Ng Wan Ching what to watch out for when it comes to food safety.
Most expiration dates on food products are used as guidelines based on normal and expected handling of the food and its exposure to temperature.
There are many factors that could affect the storage life and the quality of food product, said Assoc Prof Lim.
The most important factors will be the temperature and humidity at which the product is stored before and after purchase.
After the “use by” or “best before” date has passed, a gradual change may be noticed in the unopened product’s texture, colour or flavour.
Assoc Prof Lim gives some practical tips on how to extend the shelf life of food and to ensure its safety and quality.
1. Buy food from established and reliable stores.
2. Choose food that has not passed its expiry date, as shown on the packaging.
3. Do not buy chilled or frozen food that is displayed at room temperature.
4. Pick up refrigerated and frozen foods just prior to check-out. Refrigerated foods should be cold and frozen foods should be solid with no evidence of thawing.
5. Handle food items gently. Improperly packaged foods, dented cans and broken packages provide places for micro-organisms, air, light and creatures to enter. Gentle handling of food items will help maintain food quality and safety longer.
6. Buy in reasonable quantities, especially when it comes to perishable foods, to help avoid long-term storage.
7. Practise Fifo (first-in-first-out) to ensure food stored in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry is consumed within the expiration dates. When stocking food, place recently purchased items behind the existing food items.
8. Air, moisture, heat and light hasten spoilage for most shelf stable products. So keep these foods in a cool dry cupboard away from sunlight.
9. Cereals, nuts and biscuits may be stored at room temperature in tightly closed containers to keep out moisture and insects. They can also be stored in the fridge. This will slow microbial growth, the enzymatic and oxidation processes, for example, retard rancidity of the natural oils, which are the main culprits for food spoilage and deterioration.
10. Before consuming a food item, ensure its smell, flavour or appearance are not “off”.
When in doubt, throw it out.
Click on the arrows in the photos for more tips.