The milk in your fridge is a few days past its “use-by” date. You give it the sniff test, and it still smells good. Would it kill you to drink it?
Not necessarily, says food policy expert Gavin Wren. On his popular TikTok page, Wren explores what happens if you eat expired foods. — and by explores, we mean that he personally tastes expired foods, and shares the results with his followers.
"The reason for starting the project was because I was amazed to learn that people didn’t realize eggs could be eaten past their best-before date and would throw them away," Gavin Wren tells Green Matters exclusively via email.
"At the same time, much of my work in food policy is focussed on finding ways to reduce food waste," he continues. "So I put two and two together and figured the best way to use my platform was to show people, quite literally, which foods can be eaten past their expiry date."
How long do foods last past the use-by date?
The answer to this question will vary depending on the type of food — as well as the temperature in which it's stored.
In a series of TikTok videos, Wren compared how long two gallon-sized containers of milk last when stored at different temperatures. In an April 29 TikTok video, both milk gallons are 17 days past their use-by date (or best-before date in the U.K., where Wren is from). One of the gallons has obviously gone bad, while the other still looks and smells OK.
The difference between the two is the gallon that went bad was stored at a temperature of 7 degrees Celsius (44.6 degrees Fahrenheit), while the other was kept at a colder temp of 2 degrees (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The 7-degree milk turned soon after its expiration date, Wren says.
In a follow-up TikTok post on May 5, a full 23 days past the milk’s expiration date, Wren takes another swig of the 2-degree milk and says it’s still good. The milk stored at 2 degrees lasted for a month after its use-by date.
Has TikTok’s Gavin Wren ever gotten sick from expired food?
On his TikTok channel, Wren samples other food items that are past their use-by dates, such as orange juice, cheese, and spinach. The only thing to date that has made him sick is a bag of spinach that hadn’t even expired. He said he believes he got E. coli from eating the spinach.
Wren's TikTok videos are full of endless interesting findings regarding food spoilage, but to him, the most interesting finding thus far was discovering how long orange juice can last in the fridge: a whopping 112 days after the best-by date. Orange juice "goes on forever because of the high sugar and acid levels!" Wren tells us.
"An unexpected positive outcome of the project has been helping people who have anxiety or phobias around food, such as emetophobia," he adds. (Emetophobia refers to a fear of vomiting.) "I’ve had hundreds of comments from people saying the videos have improved their relationship with food."
What foods can you eat past their expiration date?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), most foods in your freezer or pantry are OK to eat after their expiration date. Bacteria that causes food poisoning can’t grow in the freezer. Canned goods in your pantry can last for years as long as the can isn’t damaged. Packaged food like cookies, pasta, and cereal may get stale but should still be good to eat, the USDA says.
However, meat, dairy products, and produce like leafy greens are more perishable and may not be safe to eat past their sell date or use-by date.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service developed the FoodKeeper app and website to help provide consumers with information on how long food and beverages will last when they are stored properly. FoodKeeper.gov says ultra-pasteurized milk will last up to three months from the date of the purchase if it is unopened and refrigerated. If it’s opened and refrigerated, it should be consumed within seven to 10 days.
This article, originally published on May 23, 2023, has been updated to include quotes from Gavin Wren.