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Can you eat that 7-year-old can of soup?

What those dates on food really mean

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 12:29PM

Here's the funny but useful food story of the week: With the help of a food-safety expert, Chicago Tribune writer Julie Deardorff went through the old stuff in her pantry and figured out what to trash and what to keep.


Example: An undated box of dried mashed potato flakes, purchased in 2001 and taken along when its owner moved from Washington, D.C., to Chicagoland. (Why anyone would transport a box of potato flakes is not explained.)

The expert's opinion, as relayed by Julie: "The flakes are too dry to support the growth of microorganisms. No sign of bugs. Try it."


This little project started with a discussion about a seven-year-old can of Campbell's vegetable soup. As long as the soup can isn't rusty, damaged, dented or leaking, the contents are probably OK.


Alert: This post is not about refrigerated items. Also, stamping "best by" or "use by" dates on dried or canned foods generally is not mandatory -- and the date usually indicates quality, not safety -- but there are exceptions.


Other old items in Julie's pantry were also deemed worth trying by Martin Cole, director of the National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Among them:

  • An undated jar of peach salsa. Worth trying if you hear a "click" when you open the jar, and it smells like it's supposed to.
  • A "best by May 18, 2007" can of tuna in water. "Canned foods that have been sterilized with heat -- which destroys enzymes -- are some of the safest products to keep," Julie says.

Here's a de-cluttering project for the weekend: Read Julie's column and check out the federal food-safety Web site to learn more about how to tell what's probably still good and what's not. The rules vary depending on the content -- for instance, high acidity vs. low acidity in canned goods can make a difference. Then go through all that old nonperishable stuff in your pantry.


If you come across something that's moldy, toss it out. Don't just cut out the mold. Cole said, "Don't scrape the mold off and eat the food. Mold can produce mycotoxins."


Related reading:

Published March 30, 2009

Nov 11, 2010 8:31AM

First, thanks for your insightful post. When I was a grad, student it was often very difficult for me to limit my comments during class discussions. I always like to share my ideas. The wonderful thing about commenting on blogs is that I can speak out as often as I want. I'm not sure why I have this need, but blogs enable me to fill it. Hopefully I'm also saying interesting things and simultaneously pointing people towards my own blog. Since, I've noticed that people sometimes reference my comments on their own blogs, it both makes me feel great and encourages me to keep writing. Now that I know about tracking comments, I'll be able to follow my own comments.

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Nov 11, 2010 8:27AM
I sometimes eat it with just a little of the broth, especially if I'm in a hurry, but most of the time I prefer eating ramen noodles with the soup, and I drink the entire soup afterwards. I like to add a lot of black or white pepper, or sometimes a red hot chilli pepper, to make things hot and spicy. I like ramen noodles for breakfast, and sometimes put scrambled eggs on top of the noodles and soup.
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