Expiration dates don’t really mean much

While working at the hometown grocery store in high school, I spent one summer cleaning the shelves. As I removed and dusted each item and shelf, I would put the goods I found had expired in a grocery cart up front for half off.

That cart cleared out about as fast as I could fill it.

Even at that time (pre-Food Science degree and Barfblogger status), the huge demand for those products baffled me. Weren’t the dates there for a reason: to protect consumers from bad product?

The FDA says,

“Selling food past the expiration date [on most products] is not a violation of FDA’s regulations or law.”


“When storage conditions have been optimal, many foods are acceptable in terms of taste and other quality characteristics for periods of time beyond the expiration date printed on the label, and also are safe to eat.”

Shoppers at the local grocery told me they were never afraid of getting sick. They said some things had less flavor or color, but the savings was always worth the sacrifice.

A USDA FSIS fact sheet explains,

“Except for infant formula and some baby food, product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations.”


“…even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality — if handled properly and kept at 40° F or below.”

So, wait… what is the purpose of providing expiration dates? Perhaps they only serve to make good food affordable in tough economic times.

The UK Telegraph reported recently that online retailer Approved Food is doing big business with the expired cart idea.

As the self-proclaimed “BIGGEST online sellers of clearance, short-dated and out-of-date food & drink” in the UK, Approved Food can’t even keep up with their demand.

A notice on Approved Food’s website today said,

“We currently have a 7-day backlog of orders that are to be processed… We strongly recommend that you place your order next week when we will have more items [for sale]."