Old Yogurt — Risky or Not?

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You have an unopened container of yogurt in your refrigerator; it is two months past the “best by” date. What do you do? Eat or pitch?

For many, the date on food means an automatic “throw it away day.” This isn’t always necessary. In most cases, this is a “quality” date, not a “safety” date.

Here’s what the USDA has to say about dates on food products:

  • A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of the best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.  
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
  • A “Freeze-By” date shows when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

I wrote to a popular yogurt company asking this question. Their response:

“The date on the package reflects the month and the day by which the yogurt should be consumed to ensure optimal flavor, freshness, and quality. Of course, we want our consumers to enjoy the freshest tasting product possible. Up until the “best if used by” date, we feel that our yogurt will look and taste its best. However, it can be perfectly okay to eat yogurt after this date. As always, we recommend that you use your best judgment. If the product is visually fine, it is okay to taste it. However, please be aware it may be more tart than usual. Unfortunately, we have no specific time frame or recommendation. Just that you use your best judgment. As long as it looks okay and tastes okay and has been properly sealed and refrigerated, it is okay to taste. Moldy yogurt should be thrown away; even a spot on the lid means that more bad bacteria are making their way into your yogurt.”

Our Extension food safety specialist agrees!

Eating old yogurt was the topic of a recent “Risky or Not” podcast, on episode #100. This podcast is produced by two Extension Food Safety Specialists, our own Dr. Ben Chapman from N.C. Cooperative Extension and Dr. Don Schaffner, a specialist from Rutgers in New Jersey.

In each podcast Drs. Chapman and Schaffner address a food safety topic, usually a question that has been asked by a listener or an Extension colleague. They look at research and science and give their rationale for deciding if it is risky or not.

The specialists were asked this question: Is yogurt past its “best by” date risky or not. Both professors say it is NOT risky. 

They explained why. Yogurt is basically already “spoiled milk.” It has a live bacterial culture and keeps making more acid as it ages. So it may taste more tart. Also, as it gets older, the yogurt actually makes nutrients that will destroy other potentially risky pathogens. 

If this is an opened container, that’s been in the fridge for a while, it may mold. It’s best not to eat this if mold has started to develop. Don’t just scrap the mold off and eat what’s left… this is when you need to pitch. Also, if it’s slimy… it’s best not to eat.

To sum this up, for the best quality and flavor, it’s always best to try to manage the foods in your refrigerator and pantry and eat them before the dates on the packages. This also helps to avoid food waste and save money. 

Source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610, or by email at Cheryle_Syracuse@ncsu.edu. This article was originally written for the FCS Column in the Brunswick Beacon.