Though it might not be on quite the same level as bread, milk, and eggs, yogurt is definitely a staple food.
Not only is yogurt super-versatile (you can use it as a base for dips, smoothies, and baked goods, or just dig in with a spoon), but it also packs an impressive nutritional punch.
“Yogurt is a good source of bone-strengthening calcium and gut-healthy probiotics,” says nutritionist Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. It can also be a solid source of protein (many varieties contain double-digit grams of the stuff).
Despite its perks, though, the snack gets lost in the fridge pretty easily—often leaving you with an expired tub of yogurt when you do find it.
Which, of course, raises some major questions, like: Is it okay to eat yogurt past the expiration date? How can you tell if the creamy stuff has gone bad? And, honestly, what’s the worst that can happen if you dare to eat expired yogurt?
Well, don’t stress about wasting food the next time you rediscover that long-lost (and now-expired) tub. It’s good for longer than you probably realize.
Can you eat expired yogurt?
If you get freaked out by expired food, know this: With the exception of baby formula, federal law doesn’t require that food products have dates on them that say how long they’re good for.
Oh, and the date on your yogurt isn’t ~technically~ an expiration date. Usually, it’s actually a “best by” date.
“A lot of this comes down to quality—not safety issues,” says food safety specialist Benjamin Chapman, PhD, a professor at North Carolina State University. Basically, the date stamped on your yogurt just lets you know when the yogurt company thinks the product will be at its peak flavor.
So, yogurt with a “best by” date that’s come and gone isn’t technically expired—and it is 100 percent okay to eat yogurt beyond this date. “It’s really only going to get more acidic and ferment more over time in your refrigerator,” Chapman says. “All that’s going to happen to the flavor is that it will get tangier.”
How long past the expiration date does yogurt usually last?
That doesn’t mean you want to dig into yogurt that’s been chilling in the fridge for years, though.
While there’s no set time after which your yogurt will suddenly turn to total crap, in general, you can safely enjoy many unopened yogurts for a month or so past the “best by” date, says Chapman.
However—caveat alert!—not all yogurts are created equal.
If your yogurt has fruit on the bottom, it’s a totally different story. In this case, “I would stick with that date,” Chapman says. “Yeast and molds will grow on that fruit and create a totally different experience.”
And, if you already opened your yogurt, it may only last a week past the date printed on it, Gans says. This is especially true if you dipped an already-licked spoon back into the tub at any point, since microorganisms in the air and bacteria in your mouth can make your yogurt go bad more quickly, adds Chapman.
Here’s how to tell if yogurt has actually gone bad
If your tub of yogurt has truly turned foul, your nose will give it away.
“Even the slightest rancid odor means that the yogurt has gone bad,” says Gans. Chapman agrees. “If there’s a terrible odor, something else is growing in your yogurt that you don’t expect to be there,” he says.
A growing layer of liquid at the top of your tub can also indicate that your yogurt may be off, says Gans.
When in doubt, though, do a quick taste test and chuck anything that has a funky flavor.
Got it. So what happens if you do eat spoiled yogurt?
If your yogurt is on the vintage side, but comes from an unopened container, it may justupset your stomach a bit, says Chapman. However, if it’s bad enough to bother your belly, it’ll probably taste off enough that you won’t want to eat it.
That said, if you eat yogurt that’s been opened and gone bad, it could cause a foodborne illness and leave you with diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting, Gans adds. Again, though, it will taste bad.
How to keep your yogurt as fresh as possible
To safely make that yogurt last, good refrigeration is key. Make sure your yogurt goes into your fridge (which should be set to 40 degrees or below) as soon as possible after you buy it, Gans says.
Once your yogurt is in there, don’t open it until you need it, recommends Chapman. And, if you bought a larger container, make sure the spoon you use to scoop out your portions is clean—and that you reseal the container tightly after using it.
Fun fact: If you buy more yogurt than you think you’ll eat within a few weeks, pop it in the freezer. “Yogurt may be frozen for one to two months without affecting the taste,” says Gans. From there, defrost and spoon away.
The bottom line: You can typically eat yogurt beyond its “best by” date, but be wary of any changes in smell or flavor and note that fruit-at-the-bottom yogurts have a shorter life span.
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