SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO) & COURSE COORDINATOR (POST GRADUATE DEGREE STUDIES, CARMEL COLLEGE)
Chocolate is the one food that most of us would rather eat and then deal with the consequences than ban it from our diets or junk it in the better interests of our health! And “expired” chocolates would, but naturally, cause us pain as we are faced with the dilemma of devour or destroy!
The “expiry date” on packaged and processed foods (chocolates included) can convey two messages: nutritional quality and safety aspects. An ‘expiry’ of the nutritional quality indicates that the nutrient values inscribed on the label will no longer hold good for the product if it is consumed post the date mentioned (for example, packaged juices), while an ‘expiry’ of the safety of the packaged food indicates that consumption of the food is likely to cause microbiologically-related disorder/s in the consumer (for example, milk). As for as nutritional value of a product is concerned – the total energy (kcal or calories) and macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) value provided by any packaged food will not change past its expiration date; it is the micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) content (quantity and quality) that has a tendency to decline over a period of time.
In order to come to an understanding as to what is “expiring” and whether it is fine to still consume the product, one would have to relate the “expiry date” to the product in question. For example, we eat chocolate not for its nutritional value; and so, if there is a decline in nutritional value because the chocolate has “expired”, it really is not going to make a major difference to our health. On the other hand, the safety aspect of a chocolate is important in terms of whether there will be contamination of the product due to the chocolate filling (caramel, coconut, nuts, truffle, etc.) having deteriorated in quality or the fat or dairy content of the chocolate making it rancid over a period of time, etc. From the latter perspective, eating “expired” chocolates which have not been adequately stored can definitely cause harm to the consumer. Hence, whether it is three months or one year – you need to also look at supporting factors such as storage conditions, and then decide whether the chocolate is safe for consumption after you have opened the packet and inspected it visually.
Packaged foods will also have either of two dates on the product package: A “sell by date” and a “use by” or “best before” date. A “sell by” date is provided by manufacturers for the benefit of retailers. It is a suggestion – and only a suggestion – as to when the product should be removed from shelves. It is the manufacturer’s recommendation of when the product is at peak quality. With that date stamped prominently on a container the supermarket is obliged to remove the product or risk being sued should something go wrong – even though the contents are perfectly safe. That is why stores will throw out voluminous amounts of perfectly good food and sell products at deeply discounted prices when the ominous deadline looms.
A “use by” date is the manufacturer’s suggestion to the consumer of how long the product will be at peak quality. After that, the cookies may not be as crisp or the fruit salad as bright or the chocolate as ‘chocolaty’ but the food is still fine to eat. It is the “use by” date that is the source of so many domestic squabbles as food lingers in pantries months and years beyond its supposed point of perfection. It is almost certainly fine to consume foods past their “use by” date, especially if only a reasonable amount of time has passed from any dates arbitrarily imposed on the package. Also use your senses – smell, taste, touch, and vision – to guide you towards whether the chocolate is safe for consumption once you have opened a packet after its “use by” date.