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Use Common Sense with Food Expiration Dates

Mar 30, 2023
Image of a flat, sardine style can with a pull-tab. The can has no label, and is pure white. It looks sterlie, but who knows what is inside?

Photo by on Unsplash

… and waste not wastefully, for the wasteful were ever the devil’s brothers; and the devil is ever ungrateful to his Lord.

The Qur’an (E.H. Palmer tr), Sura 17 – The Night Journey

by Christine Muller

Food waste comes at a huge cost to the environment. (See last paragraph of January’s Tip —Avoid Food Waste with Delicious Soups.) When deciding whether food is still good for consumption or not, use common sense.

Some foods will virtually last forever, such as sugar, molasses, honey, vanilla and other extracts, salt, and vinegar, no matter what the expiration date indicates. Dry beans also last for many years; however, their cooking time may increase after about one year. White flour and white rice also keep well for a very long time. Whole grain flour and brown rice have a shelf life of many months, but you cannot keep them for years because their fat content turns rancid.

Food expiration dates are rough estimates about food quality and generally don’t refer to food safety. So, while food is always more nutritious when fresh, there is no need to throw out food that is still edible. Common sense comes in handy here: If you happen to find a can of soup in the back of a kitchen shelf with an expiration date of two or even three years from the date of purchase, you can likely use it for at least another year after its expiration date. Of course, do not open a can if it is bulged. It is a good habit to always examine an opened can first with your eyes and nose, no matter whether its date is expired or not. A tub of yoghurt that one can keep for several weeks, is likely still perfect two or three weeks after its expiration date. However, you cannot keep it for months!

Generally, one must be more careful with raw meat. As with other food though, its edible life depends a great deal on how it is stored. If it was kept in a warm car for an hour, it may not even last until the official expiration date. If raw meat smells bad, it is better to throw it out. If it seems to be fine but is one or two days past its expiration date, just cook it longer for safety.

These are only some ideas to stimulate your own thoughts.

Food Waste Prevention Week will take place April 10 – 16, a great opportunity for meaningful conversations and public discourse.

To learn more about expiration dates, see: Deciphering dates on products (from

To learn more about food storage, see:’s Storage Guide.


Christine Muller, Teacher of Music and the Environment

Board Secretary, International Environment Forum

I was interested in environmental issues already at a young age and became a Bahá’í when I was 17, which was the beginning of a life-long study of the Bahá’í Faith. As the environmental crisis was worsening, I began to systematically study climate change at a time when not much information was easily available. I also searched the Bahá’í teachings for a spiritual solution to the climate crisis. At that time, climate change was not known to most people and there were no educational materials available. That’s why I wrote Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change – an Interfaith Study Course, which the International Environment Forum posted in 2009. I joined the Wilmette Institute as support faculty for its Sustainable Development course in 2011 and created its Climate Change course the following year. I also teach a course on climate change for the Environmental Sciences Department of the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) in Iran. I have served on the board of RI Interfaith Power&Light for more than a decade. In recent years, much of my time is spent serving the Bahá’í-inspired International Environment Forum ( as its secretary.  My formal academic background is in music, and I enjoy part-time piano teaching, playing and - when there is time - composing music. A recent composition is Humans on Earth – a Ballad of Our Time for two singers, string orchestra, piano, and percussion. Its lyrics include quotations from scientific sources and the Bahá’í Writings. Christine’s articles on BahaiTeachings.orgSee Faculty Bio


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