Some foods like canned goods and others can be eaten well after "use by," "sell by" or expiration dates, but food safety experts say you have to be more cautious of raw meats and other fresh foods. The I-Team found one food pantry handing out food that you may not want to eat, including raw, thawed chicken, five days past the "use by" date.
ABC7's Jason Knowles: "Today's date is March 28. The chicken says use or freeze by March 22."
The I-Team found several examples of thawed meats like chicken and steak being handed out 3-5 days past the "use by," "sell by" and "freeze by" dates.
Knowles: "So this is three days expired and actually looks a little green. Would you eat that? Shopper: "No."
All of it coming from this food pantry in west suburban Addison, the Addison Community Switchboard on Friday, March 28.
Knowles: "Sour cream, expiration March 14, French onion dip March 16, turkey gravy use or freeze by Jan 28, 2014."
"It's bad, it horrible, it should not be allowed. We always come for the bread, the bread is fresh here," said Felipe Caravallo, shopper.
Felipe Caravallo threw his meat out after we looked at the dates. Diane Barrientos originally sent the I-Team pictures of questionable food from a week earlier, then showed us her pantry bags.
"This is chicken, it says use or freeze by 3/22/14. Today is the 28th," said Barrientos. "And then we have, this is getting a little black already, um, 25th expiration, use by."
The DuPage County Health Department says the Addison Community Switchboard does not have a permit to distribute fresh foods and meats. However, permitted pantries can legally distribute meats and fresh foods past those "use by" and "sell by" and "freeze by" dates if they are properly refrigerated or frozen. Standard protocol for pantries is to only distribute older meats if they are frozen before those dates. Food safety expert Deirdre Schlunegger agrees the meats in our footage should have been frozen.
"The problem with meat is we don't know if that meat has been frozen before we don't know how long it has been thawed," said Schlunegger. "Make sure it doesn't have a slimy coating or is sticky, if it is discolored or has a bad smell listen to your gut."
The manager of the food pantry, James Lombardo says the organization has been around 44 years and feeds 300 families a month. He invited the I-Team to look at his food storage and handling.
He showed us freezers full of frozen meat and says all meat, especially older cuts, are received frozen and they're supposed to be handed out frozen.
Knowles: "So what was going on?" Lombardo: "The day you were here, I was not here. On Friday, it may have slipped by a volunteer. I don't know. . . I can't, can't give you an explanation for that, ahh, it slipped by us, it won't happen again, guarantee you it won't happen again.
He also apologized for other expired foods like sour cream and French onion dip.
"We should not have put it out, should not have put it out, should have gone in the garbage. If I offended anyone by doing it I am sorry," said Lombardo.
During the I-Team's visit, we saw some mustard and mayo on the shelves that were both several months past the expiration dates. Lombardo threw out the mayo. Lombardo also says the pantry will be getting the proper license form the health department.
It is important again to point out some foods can be eaten past these dates in question. The USDA has a list of recommendations on things you can eat well past the expiration or "use by" dates.
Additional information from USDA:
No Strict Laws on "Use-By" "Sell-By" dates
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service does not require dating on meat, poultry or egg products, and the agency advises consumers to handle food carefully regardless of its 'use-by,' 'sell-by,' or other date.
'Use-by' and 'Sell-by' dates reflect quality, not safety, and they must adhere to formatting requirements if a manufacturer chooses to display them.
Retailers cannot modify a sell-by date or use-by date on meat and poultry products packaged by federal establishments and inspected by the USDA unless those products are repackaged and further processed by the retailer.
If a product is handled properly and stored at a safe temperature, the product should still be safe, though not at its best quality, after the date passes.
If a product is handled improperly, for example being held at temperatures above 40 °F for more than two hours, the safety of the product may be compromised before the date passes.