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Jesse shows whether years old food is legal to sell and safe to eat


A retail store in Everett is selling food for deep discounts. But some of it is months or years past the use-by date.

Prospector Liquidation owner Rich Barnett tells me he buys the food in boxes – not knowing what will be inside.

“You don’t know what it’s going to be. All you know is you’re buying a box of food,” Barnett said.

The pricing is below basement because Barnett buys food that is nearing or past the sell by or best by dates from distributors.

“We buy it low and sell it low,” Barnett said.

Most of the items at Prospector Liquidation are half off retail or more.

But I also saw some dates of food that were historic.

One bottle of Lawry’s Buffalo BBQ sauce at the store is from President Obama’s first term in 2009!

Food safety experts tell me that old, dry foods shouldn’t make people sick. But it bears asking the question-what are you willing to do to save a buck?

“It’s a good conversation to have and that is, how long does food last? How long is it good for?,” Barnett said.

I found a number of items past the use-by dates, like iced coffee with almond milk with a best by date of February 2016, Halloween cookie dough with a use by date of November 2016 and Egg-Nog with a use by date of February 2017.

“In my opinion, any product like cheese, milk, eggs, meat of any kind, chicken, any of that stuff should never, ever be sold past the use by date,” lawyer and food safety expert Bill Marler said.

Marler also says if there’s a pathogen in the food, you don’t want it to grow.

“So if you bought this recently, it’s problematic,” Marler said.

I also bought deli meat, like hot dogs that were dated October 16th, 2016.

Marler says salmonella and listeria are the most troubling contaminants to food products.

“Listeria grows really well at refrigerated temperatures, so when you buy deli meat, and if it happens to be contaminated with listeria, you take it home and you put it in your refrigerator for 2 weeks, that listeria, if it’s there, has a chance to grow,” Marler said.

We haven’t been able to find any serious illnesses connected to Prospector Liquidation.

“We have never had anyone get sick from anything they bought here that we know of, ever,” Barnett said.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by federal law.

That’s when I decided to have a blind taste test.

The first item on the list to taste was Hot Tamales candy. I tasted one piece of candy from each bag.  One had a best-by date of 2016, while the other was dated 2018. I could not tell the difference between the two.

The second item on the list to try was Kettle Brand potato chips. I tested two bags with “best before” dates of 2016 and 2017. Again, I could not tell the difference.

But my good luck with tasting years old food ended there.

I decided to taste Boom Chicka Pop Frosted Cupcake Flavored Kettle Corn with the sell-by date of June 2015. I must say, that didn’t sit well.

Lastly, I tested Lawry’s Buffalo BBQ sauce with a use-by date of November 2009. I tried the sauce with chicken nuggets and it made my taste buds cringe.

“If people are looking for what they are buying and looking at what they are eating, then they are not going to get sick,” Barnett explained.

And that takes us back to our initial question: Is buying dated food a tasty proposition?

“And from everything we’ve read and been told – look at it and if it is good it’s perfectly good to eat,” Barnett said.

What do “Best if Used-By/Before,” “Sell-By” and “Use-By” mean?

  • A “Best if Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality — but is NOT a purchase or safety date
  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale– it’s also NOT a safety date
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality

None of these are safety dates except for when used on infant formula


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