Have you ever found yourself about to start cooking and realised you’ve run out of olive oil? Then, during your frustrated rummage through the pantry, you find your saviour waiting there at the very back. But, just before you exhale your sigh of relief, you realise it’s a year out of date and wonder, “Can I still use this?”
This scenario is, I’m sure, very relatable for many home chefs because everyone just assumes olive oil can be left sitting in your pantry for months or even years on end.
But I’m not so sure the classic “she’ll be right” can really apply to olive oil. You could be the type of person who never really checks the use-by date on things (you must also love anarchy) or someone who is super sceptical about consuming anything past its use-by date. Either way, this week’s Ask LH will hopefully inspire you to buy some new olive oil and teach you that use-by dates are more than just mere suggestions.
What is a use-by date?
In case you don’t know, a use-by date is a marked date that serves as a guide to how long food should be kept before it begins its process of deterioration and becomes unsafe to consume. You will find a use-by or best-before date on just about every food and beverage product in Australia.
What’s the difference between a use-by date and a best-before date, you ask? In Australia, we have two different types of date marking systems – and it is up to the food supplier to provide whichever one is appropriate.
Any food or beverage that must be eaten before a certain timeframe for reasons of health and safety should be marked with a use-by date. These products, if consumed past this date, could pose a health and safety risk, so they shouldn’t be eaten (ya hear that, use-by anarchists?). For that reason, those products cannot be legally sold after this date.
A best-before date, however, is marked on foods that you can still consume for a little while after the date on the product. The food should be safe for consumption, but it might have just lost some of its quality. And by “a little while”, we mean days, not months or years. Please don’t eat food a year out of date.
Here’s some fun information you can whip out at trivia: bread is the only food that can have a different date marking system. Instead of a use-by or best-before date, bread can be labelled with “baked on” or “baked for this date” because its shelf life is almost always less than seven days.
Can olive oil expire?
For some reason, it is a common thought that olive oil doesn’t go bad like flour or sugar. But the truth is it definitely does.
After all, it is made from freshly pressed olives (shocking, I know) and the quality will degrade over time. And no, olive oil is not like wine and won’t age the same, so you can stop storing it like a prized possession.
Extra virgin olive oil, like most food products, will naturally start to degrade over time. This is especially true when it is subjected to light and air. It is recommended that you look for the harvest date on the label of the bottle. If it’s been unopened, the oil should be good to use within 12 months from that harvest date.
If the oil has been opened, it is best to use it within two to three months of opening, again provided it is still within a 12-month period of harvest.
There are also many different types of olive oils with different expiry dates, so check your bottle to make sure yours is in date.
Where should you store olive oil?
Contrary to popular belief, olive oil should not be stored on your kitchen bench, despite how much it adds to the atmosphere. I’m sure we will still be able to tell it’s a kitchen without the honorary olive oil in full sight.
If left on the bench, the olive oil is exposed to heat and light, which only speeds up the degradation process. In other words: keep the oil off your kitchen bench, away from your windows and just store it in the pantry.
To make the most out of your oil, keep it upright in a cool dark place away from direct sunlight with the lid closed tightly. Unless you want to start your own weird science experiment, keep your olive oil out of the fridge.
Olive oil is normally kept in a dark green bottle to keep the oil fresh for longer. So R.I.P. to those pretty glass containers.
So, can I still use olive oil past its expiry date?
If it is a last resort, it should be fine to use some olive oil past its use-by date, provided it hasn’t been years (seriously, why have you kept olive oil from 2016?). Just make sure you grab some fresh bottles when you are next at the shops. Next time, don’t buy the 4L drums of olive oil – there is no way you can get through all that within a year.
And while I have you here, please, please, please do not use olive oil as a lube.