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Debunking Expiration Date Food Label Myths (A Handy Guide)

Survival Food

Debunking Expiration Date Food Label Myths (A Handy Guide)

One of the biggest questions we get here at Prep For That is in regards to “expired foods.” When it comes to prepping, many of us already have a wealth of canned or box foods lying around which could cut down on how much long-terms storage foods we may invest in. Understanding how expiration dates actually work can make your life a lot easier if a disaster ever were to strike. You don’t want to give your children or yourself something that would cause a food poisoning reaction, but you also want to avoid wasting completely usable food that could be used to nutrition and calories during an extended period of power outages or civil unrest. There are survival food companies on Amazon that are super economic that aren’t a bad idea to purchase as well, but understanding if you can or can’t eat what you have in the event you don’t have survival food on hand. And truly, you never know when you may need to bug out and rely on food storages at some point.

The key is understanding what all those food labels actually mean. Anytime you see something that reads “use by” and that date is beyond the day your reading it, there is something unsavory sounding about eating it for dinner or a snack. But could you survive on it?

Let’s explore. Do you know how to determine if something is still edible without allowing the label to act as the determiner?

Shelf life is a key component to our health. Food manufacturers have a lot of liability when it comes to noting shelf life on labels. Therefore, they don’t want to be wrong. This can often mean they label on the side of 100% safety. But this doesn’t always mean the food is bad.


The science says that if you ingest this specific food beyond the “best before” date, you may not enjoy the tastes and freshness intended by the manufacturer. This is letting you know what the most favorable time to eat this food is. You will find this label mostly on bakery items, cereals, and some canned foods.


This label regards the taste and the freshness factor involving the ingredients.  For some products, this could also mean that their intended purposes could be compromised, such as cookie doughs or flours. It could also mean the product’s nutritional value is compromised, as could be the case with baby formula.


This product is typically still safe to eat. This is a stipulation placed upon the store to pull the product and stop selling it. Legally, they can still sell it because the food is still good beyond this date. The law also gives flexibility to stores allowing them to change this date if the freshness of the product is preserved. This label is a marker for stores. Many fresh products such as raw meat are affected by this.


This is the date that, when food is consumed beyond this date, the food might be spoiled. Eating this food could cause severe reactions in people, such as infections. People have been known to die from ingesting expired food. Microorganisms may have compromised the food package beyond this date. The food may also be full of food toxins.


The food manufacturer’s label is a date when the manufacturer assumes the food product will go bad. The thing is, it doesn’t always go bad at this date, and that means massive food waste. There are people starving in the world that could use this food, but it gets thrown out often due to misinformation. And if disaster does strike, you may get desperate and need to understand this matter a bit deeper.

There are many factors in terms of food spoilage. How the food is stored and how processed the food is makes a big determination. The more processed the food, the more resilient it is from the elements. The acidic value in the food also matters.

  • Meat, fish and low acid foods like soup and vegetables are three years
  • High-acid foods such as tomatoes and pickles and fruit are two years
  • Fruit juice is one year

A good idea with canned foods is to move the older ones to the front and replace in the back with newer purchases so that you can easily manage your food storages.

Bread, frozen foods, canned foods, vegetables and fresh fruits are all likely candidates for being good following an expiration date. With fruits, you want to store at lower temps, such as 40 degrees, to give them the best shot at extending their stay. For canned foods to remain good for a couple of years past their expiration date if you store them in a cooler, darker environment. Frozen foods stored in a freezer at 0 degrees can extend their stay.

Food labels can be confusing, and that confusion often causes food waste. Additionally, in a survival scenario, understanding labels could be the difference between survival and something else. This isn’t an article encouraging people to eat spoiled foods; it is an article encouraging a deeper understanding of how the system works so that we can cut down on food waste and increase survival for people who may find themselves in a bad situation. Again, you could also purchase affordable survival food on Amazon to really improve your prepping situation, but in the event, you don’t and have to work with what you have on hand, now you know.

Photo by culturecat

Author: Jim Satney

PrepForThat’s Editor and lead writer for political, survival, and weather categories.

Please visit the CDC website for the most up-to-date COVID-19 information.

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