Dear Lifehacker, I frequently visit my local general store due to the convenience and lovely customer service. They have a discount bin which is populated with out-of-date items such as biscuits and chips. Usually, the products are a week or two old, but the other day they had things in the bin that expired over a month ago. Is there any kind of cut off for selling out of date goods? Thanks, Not Keen To Get Sick
Grocery store image from Shutterstock
Food expiration is regulated by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. The legalities surrounding the sale of expired food depends on the type of ingredients they contain.
In short, products that remains safe to eat after passing their expiration date can still be sold, while food that becomes potentially dangerous must be disposed of by the merchant.
You can tell which is which by the type of label used: "best before" or "use by". The former is still safe to consume and can be legally sold to customers. However, the taste and texture is often compromised which is why they are typically marked down.
"Use by" is another story. Foods you should definitely avoid after passing the use by date include eggs, raw meats and milk. If the general store is selling these products past the expiry date, they are breaking the law.
In most cases, "best before" labels should be viewed as a recommendation or guideline rather than an exact science. When properly sealed, the majority of packaged goods do not degrade in quality for many weeks after "expiring". For things like chips and biscuits, the true cut-off date is usually a month or two later. After this, they have a tendency to get stale and/or unpleasantly soft.
If you're curious about the "real" expiry date of certain products, we recommend paying a visit to Eat By Date website, which contains a database of true expiration dates for popular products. In addition, it tells you how to identify when foods are bad, how it affects the flavour and how to store products to maximise their shelf life.
In any event, general stores know they're taking a gamble when they sell expired food -- if the taste isn't up to par, simply return it and ask for a refund. If their customer service is as good as you say it is they should be happy to comply.
Have a question you want to put to Ask Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.