Obviously, expiration dates say a lot about age & shelf life of the food you are purchasing. When it comes to meat and dairy, we can all agree that they’re a must. Though the dates on those items usually give significant leeway, it’s a safe bet that the three-month old open half and half you’re about to toss in your coffee probably smells like your old basketball shoes and will be more than a little chunky when it falls into your cup.
But on many other items, the expiration date might speak to more to the taste quality rather than the spoilage of the product.
A bag of unopened flavored corn chips that is both a tasty-cheesy-snack and a fire starter might well serve you stored in a panic room, bomb shelter or storm cellar, as it’s a good bet you will be able to enjoy it for years (decades) to come.
What about chocolate? Well, it depends. How’s that for commitment??
A good piece of real (plain) dark chocolate, if stored in the correct conditions (see the blog post on blooming), can last years without compromising the taste. It’s the inclusions, or added ingredients, that may significantly reduce the shelf life of your favorite chocolate. Our Grown up Peanut Butter Cups contain all natural peanut butter. The oils can and will separate over time (just like that jar of natural peanut butter in your pantry) and if the oils seep out, the peanut butter inside the chocolate will dry out over time.
And chocolate bars with added flavors will diminish in taste over time & after say, 2 years, you’ll have a hard time getting the flavor out as you would have when it was fresher. Truffles which contain real cream, will definitely have a short shelf life (a few months in most cases), and any chocolate that uses fresh fruit would be best if eaten immediately. Nuts, dried fruits and seeds will last a little longer, but no more than about 9 months in the correct environment.
That said, a good piece of chocolate shouldn’t “go bad,” so your only risk is the ingredients it may contain.
If you’re shopping in the grocery store and see a bag of truffles with a two year expiration date, check the ingredients. Most likely, they contain shelf-stable ingredients to preserve the truffles, which means there may be even more sugar in them as well as other stabilizers (like corn syrup or palm-kernel oil) and possible no cream at all. Peanut butter cups in the store will likely have peanut powder, rather than pure peanut butter, to increase the shelf life as well.
So use your judgement. If it’s a piece of pure chocolate that expired two months ago, you’re safe. If it’s a chocolate covered strawberry from last Valentine’s Day, toss it.
And if the expiration date is ridiculously far in the future for something that should expire after only a few months, check the ingredients to see what additives that product might contain.
And as for that half and half – the garbage disposal is your only solution.