USDA says foods may still be edible more than a year after 'expiration'

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said some foods can be eaten even if they "expired" eighteen months ago.

The USDA said by educating people about cautious expiration dates they hope to save billions of pounds of good food that is wasted in the U.S. each year.

"The best rule of thumb with that is to use your nose if you can. And you can tell when food is getting a little old or a little off and up until then you can generally be pretty safe in eating it," said Marla Camp, publisher of Edible Austin food magazine.

The USDA reports 36 pounds of food is wasted per person per month in the U.S. and most of that can be traced to premature expiration dates. Konnie Craig, senior director of operations at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas said by cutting out all that waste, "we could end hunger."

The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas has been working with local stores to collect and distribute "expired" foods for several years.

"Last year we were able to save 16 million pounds of food before it went to landfill," said Craig.

"We're able to go in, take that product, come back here and extend that life and make sure people are fed every day," Craig added.

The USDA said some foods can be consumed up to 18 months after the printed expiration date and the food bank said they can sometimes make foods last even longer than that.

"On canned foods, low acidity, you've got three years past the expiration date," said Craig.

"The only thing you lose is a little nutritional value, that's all. The product will not hurt you. It will still be good for you. Just a little less nutritional," Craig added.

Craig said the food bank would never distribute baby food that is past an expiration date, but canned acidic foods can be distributed up to 18 months after expiration and milk-based products are good for a week after they supposedly expire. With that food and other donations, the food bank is able to serve 46,000 clients every week with the help of partner agencies.

Craig said if there is ever any question about the quality of food they go by the motto: "When in doubt, throw it out."

The USDA has developed a smartphone app called FoodKeeper to help determine when food actually spoils. The app gives storage guidelines, cooking tips and spoil dates for 400 different foods.