Is It Legal To Sell Expired Food?

Is it ok for stores to sell food that’s expired? It depends. It is illegal for stores to sell food past its “Use By” date. However, stores are allowed to sell food after it has passed the “Best Until” “Best Before” “Sell By” or “Display Until” dates stamped on the sides of packages. As the name suggests, it just might not be its best, in terms of flavor, consistency, or texture. Still, why get the old stuff when you can get the fresh for the same price? Always check the expiration dates on food packages to make sure you’re getting the best value for your dollar.

REFERENCES:
What You Should Know About Outdated Food [KPTV]Expired Items On Store Shelves; FOX 12 Investigates [KPTV]
Labelling rules [Eatwell.gov]

(Photo: whatatravisty)

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  1. Tristan Smith says:

    My local grocery store deeply discounts the about to expire items. sometimes up to 90% off. Last week for example, they had 4lbs of bacon for only $1.

  2. GilloD says:

    As someone working is the food business: If you get an expired product PLEASE let us know, but all returns have to be handled through the store. If the product itself seems off through no fault of the grocer, that’s something we can handle and really need to hear about. Sometimes the factory chooses to do something differently and doesn’t tell us. But if it’s out of date or the jar is cracked, do that through the store.

    However, we do appreciate hearing how the product is doing on the shelf. If a particular store or chain isn’t rotating stock or selling out of date stuff we need to hear about that to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  3. I have no problem purchasing a product after it’s “Best if used by” or any variation thereof.

    That said someone did an expose on large grocers quite a few years back, and showed that many large chains re-date things that are packaged in house like meat, and put them out as if they were new stock. Ever since I’m very careful where I buy my meat.

  4. Ikki says:

    I shop regularly at a relatively small grocery store, and they give away any food that has passed the Best Before date for free, although they suggest a donation for a charity such as Cops for Cancer or something similar.

    Good place to get milk when you’re thirsty right then, since it’s still good for about a week or two after the date.

  5. windycity says:

    I remember as a kid going to the local Hostess Factory Outlet store. Everything they sold was past its “Sell By” date. We stocked up on bread and fruit pies, throwing what we couldn’t eat right away into the freezer. None of us got sick and I never noticed anything tasting different.

  6. Ein2015 says:
  7. @Windycity

    We did that when I was a kid too. The monthly trip to “Home Base” (replaced by a Costco later) and the Franz Bread outlet store.

  8. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    I went to that Eatwell link… It’s a UK GOV website… I’m wondering if we have a similar law here in the US…

  9. shakakan says:

    “It is illegal for stores to sell food past its “Use By” date. “

    - In Missouri this is completely false. Expiration dates are not enforceable in any way. It is illegal however, for a retailer to cover or obscure a manufacturer’s date. Caveat Emptor. Also be aware that this may not apply in counties/cities with their own food ordnance (Jackson, KC, Clay, St. Louis County/City, Greene, etc…), it only applies to counties that operate under 19CSR20-1.025. I am a health inspector in the state of MO BTW.

  10. B says:

    @rndmideas: Woo hoo! Cheap meat!

  11. laserjobs says:

    The grocery store I shop at discounts all items by 50% when products hit their sell by date. Anything past gets thrown out. Let me tell you I have a freezer full of food.

  12. fredzorz says:

    This reminds me of the time I bought packaged sushi, TWO FRICKIN’ /YEARS/ past its expiration date. Luckily I spotted it before I ate it. They exchanged it right away when I returned it though. I went to get a better one, and all of the ones on the shelf (there were only two) had the same date. I don’t want to know how horribly they had sold.

  13. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    I always go to Jerry’s in Niles at Oakton & Milwaukee for almost out of date stuff.
    He has a freezer & fridge full of deli stuff that has expiration dates of less than a week away.
    There’s always more stuff in the vestibule as you enter.
    Where else can you buy matzoh for 25¢ a pound?

  14. @fredzorz: This reminds me of the time I bought packaged sushi,

    Stop right there. Put the chopsticks down. Packaged sushi is an oxymoron.

  15. luz says:

    Wouldn’t a pound of matzoh equal, like, a trunkload?

  16. mbz32190 says:

    Most things with a date on them can really be used for months longer before you may start to notice a difference in taste (except for perishables of course). The supermarket I work at insists on throwing away packaged baked goods days before the sell by date. I sneak them home and last for weeks past the date and still taste fresh.

  17. Gokuhouse says:

    Usually it’s a safe bet you’re getting the freshest items by reaching clear back behind the items in front and going for the back ones.

  18. darksunfox says:

    @Windycity – Hostess snacks have expiration dates?

  19. crabbyman6 says:

    @darksunfox: seriously, those snacks must have seen the advent of the internet.

  20. picardia says:

    @Gokuhouse: You speak truth.

    I don’t care if something like dry cereal is a couple weeks past its date, but meat, milk, etc. — I’m taking no chances.

  21. henrygates says:

    Our local grocery discounts almost-to-expire items, but the discounts are paltry. They just throw away anything that’s expired.

  22. SacraBos says:

    @fredzorz: The Kroger near me has a sushi station, where a chef prepares fresh sushi throughout the day. Didn’t know it was that popular where I live…

  23. chevychic55 says:

    Go to Fresh and Easy people… assuming you have one by you. If you go in the morning then practically everything is 50% off. They start marking things down the day before something is supposed to be sold by. Last week I got deliscious Filet Mignon for half the price. Plus, their meat is never frozen. I get a whole cart full of 50% food whenever I go shopping.

  24. evslin says:

    @chevychic55: I went to a Fresh and Easy when I was in Vegas… pretty neat place. Regrettably, there aren’t any around where I live. :(

  25. RandomHookup says:

    I volunteer at a big industrial food bank and they keep most things for a year past the use by/expiration/best by date except for cereal and salad dressing (6 months) and mayo and energy bars (out when expired). Most packaged products are good for a long time after they expire (I saw an ROTC cadet eat C Rations that were packaged before he was born).

    I’d like to know the reference on “it’s illegal to sell expired goods” law. Even one of the linked articles says it’s not illegal to sell by expiration date. The Eatwell article says it’s illegal, but they are in the UK and, as well know, Consumerist focuses on stories in the US.

  26. madanthony says:

    I occasionally shop at a store with the inventive name “good stuff cheap”. Among the regular dollar store type crap, they sell expired food at low, low prices. They have signs all over the store telling you that it’s legal, it won’t kill you, and if you aren’t happy with the quality they will give you your money back. They have some interesting stuff – the best thing is that they sell “factory second” pretzels in those little bags – usualy 4 for $1 – which are perfect for brown-bag lunches.

  27. Concerned_Citizen says:

    Why don’t grocery stores freeze the meat and sell it that way when it comes to the end of the sell by date? Doesn’t frozen meat last for years?

  28. Rippleeffect says:

    @Concerned_Citizen: IDK about you, but I actually prefer fresh, unfrozen meat.

  29. stephennmcdonald says:

    caveat: this is all based on something my 12th grade ap calculus teacher told me many years ago. so of course this may have changed by now, who knows. or he could have been making it up to convince us calculus was useful.

    but apparently, most use by dates are calculated thusly:

    test a bunch of products for “goodness” (which is defined differently for each kind of product, he never really explained this, i assume for looking/smelling bad or making people sick, maybe bacteria measurement, i dunno).

    find the mean (average) of when they went bad.

    calculate the standard deviation of the set.

    today + mean – 2 standard deviations = use by date.

    so, real world example, if you test a bunch of milk, and the average goes bad in 20 days, and the standard deviation is 3 days, then your sell by is 14 days, erring on the side of safe.

    assuming he’s correct, that means it’s more a matter of common sense if things are bad – does it look, smell, taste bad? if not, go for it. YMMV, my family has iron stomachs from a life of living with this philosophy so we’re probably less susceptible than most.

  30. packetsniffer says:

    “Still, why get the old stuff when you can get the fresh for the same price?”
    Um, yeah, expired or close-to-expired foods get massive discounts in nearly any store. So why not get those and save some money?

  31. sjmoreau says:

    So I bought some yogurt at my local Super Target (Richfield, MN) on 6/9/08. Yesterday, opened one up and thought it tasted and looked a little funny. I looked at the ‘best by’ date and it was labeled June 8, 2007! Are you kidding me?!?!? How could this be on the shelf? I returned them last night, got my money back and two $3 vouchers off my next purchase. Also got an employee to look through ALL the yogurt to make sure the rest of it was good. Gross.

  32. idx says:

    There is a store near me called “Suda Salvage” that sells salvaged and nearly expired items. Other than the fact that the store looks like you would get tetnus just from walking in, it’s an amazing place full of incredible deals. For instance, all of their cereal is usually just torn up boxes (bags still sealed) and even the expensive stuff is around $1.50 a box. They sell dented cans for about 75% of the price of regular canned goods. Here’s the best thing; the beer and wine. Last week I bought 24 bottles of Chimay for $15. In other words, if you live around New Orleans you should check this place out.

  33. mzs says:

    @RandomHookup: I worked as a cooked some summers at a boy scout camp. We routinely got army surplus a decade or more old. I always thought it was amazing how many coffee cans of peanut butter (aka spread, peanut) those kids went through in a day. Also aldi would give us expired stuff for free in the mornings and about to expire toast for 5 cents a loaf.

  34. AMetamorphosis says:

    I have no problem with certain dry goods getting close to date but as a rule, I don’t eat anything past the ” whatever by ” date. My Mom is another story & frequently has items in her kitchen a year or more past date. Eating @ the parental units house is like Russian ( dressing ) roulette & I’m not much of a gambler …

    I purchase foods when on sale and keep them in a pantry where I jot the purchase date on the tops with a Sharpie as I put them away. That way, regardless of the ” whatever by ” date, I know that if I have not used it in 6 months, not to buy as much from here on out.

    It not only helps me to stock a more appropriate pantry for our families needs, but I rotate out the items getting close to being in the pantry for 6 months and they are taken to the local food pantry.
    ( I wouldn’t give anything away that I myself would not eat, therefore I make sure it either consumed by our family or doanated to others before the ” whatever ” date comes due. )

    I’m a frugal shopper but I’m not eating expired items and taking chances.

  35. Phreggs says:

    Meat and Dairy I always go by the date on the package.

    Anything else goes by my nose. If it smells bad, it gets dumped. If it smells good enough to eat… Down the shoot.

    Never gotten sick from expired food :)

  36. Arthur says:

    Every time I go to my local Safeway and buy yoghurt, I use one side of my basket for the expired ones to give to the cashier on my checkout, and the other side is used for ones that are not expired. I will have to report them, I didn’t know it was illegal..but now I do.

  37. Gopher bond says:

    Expired food is the reason soups and stews were invented. The theory being if you mix enough things together and cook the hell out of it, you’ll have some tasty and healthy food.

    I always pick up expired sausages and smoked links from the local grocery store. I can get like 6 pounds for $2.00. Cut them up and cook them with whatever veggies/rice/beans I can find. If you add enough onion, anything is edible.

  38. Gopher bond says:

    @Arthur: Ha, I used to deal with guys like you at the grocery store, those yogurts are going right back on the shelf.

  39. Shaneniganz says:

    A case of the munchies!
    We have “salvage stores” all over the place here. I used to shop quite regularly at them til the day I was standing in front of some shelves full of spaghetti and other pasta. There was only myself and a couple other customers in the store so it was rather quiet. While perusing the pasta, trying to decide what I wanted, I gradually became aware of this low, well, for lack of a better description, munching or chewing sound. Looking around for the source, I noticed the nearer the shelves of pasta I came, the louder it got! Upon a REAL close inspection the entire sheling unit full of dried pasta was being methodically eaten by thousands of tiny bugs! (Weevils, I think) Every single package had the bugs in it, all quite content, just chowing down. I put down my basket of items, told the owner what I found, who said she would remove the pasta immediately. Well, just out of curiousity, I went back a week later, the SAME pasta was still on the shelves and the happy bugs were still munching away! Nope, I didn’t buy anything that first day, or ever again! (And yes, I did cal the health inspector!)

  40. ducksauce says:

    The A&P near my apartment removes the sell by labels from some foods (cheese) after the date passes. I’ve wondered if that was illegal, but even if not it’s a good reminder to not buy food without some kind of date on it.

  41. javacat says:

    I am a poor, broke college student living in Pennsylvania. Before I moved here, I had no clue there was such a thing as surplus grocery stores(I sho at three different stores, Ameila’s in Lancaster, D&K in Red Lion, and Sharp Shopper in Ephrata). It is shopping at these stores that has made it possible for me to eat, and eat well at that (and on the cheap!).

    Often times, the food is within a month of it’s sell-by date, or not too far after it.

    I have found gourmet foods priced at anywhere from .50 to $2. I am allergic to milk and buy soy and rice milk there (when it is in stock) at 2 for $1. I find organic foods at 75%-90% off what I would pay for at the grocery store. I buy name brand cereal from anywhere from $1.29 to $2.59. Cans of veggies at 5 for $2. I just bought a name brand energy bar that retails for approximately $1.59 at 3 for $1…40 of them, to be exact. I would never have been able to afford them otherwise, and they taste pretty darn yummy!

    Rarely, RARELY have I come across something I did not like, and I have never come across spoiled/rotten/bug infested food.

    So…don’t knock it until you try it.

  42. parvax says:

    @javacat:

    I shop at the D&K and Amelia’s in Lancaster too, and I’ve never had any problems. Whats wrong with eating gourmet potato chips that are a month expired? Those dates are just a way for companies to prod you into buying more and throwing out perfectly good food. Obviously this isn’t the case for meat and dairy products or anything nut-based.

  43. Meathamper says:

    @rndmideas: My local store does, but is it really good for you? Probably not.

  44. opal says:

    @idx: Isn’t there some issue about dented cans indicating bacteria or something like that? How would you know if the dent was actually from impact with something strong/heavy?

  45. shockwaver says:

    Our local grocery store has a discount meat area.. and I love it. I can usually pick up nice cuts of meat, cheap ass lunch meat (the good quality stuff), and what not for a really good price.. the caveat is it is set to “expire” in a day or two, so we bring it home and chuck it in the freezer. For the most part, things turn out ok when we thaw and cook it.