Question about expiration dates on food

So, in an attempt to help my friend save money, I am going through her pantry and creating menus and shopping lists using what she already has.

She has many things that are from six months - two years past the expiration date. I would hate to throw things out if they are still usable, so I was hoping to find out 1) what the general rules about expiration dates are depending on the type of packaging and 2) if some specific things she has are still usable.

Tetra paks - is there a general guideline for these? Specifically, she has organic soups that range from a year and a half to seven months past the expiration date.

Bottled - general guidelines? Is a bottle of Thai peanut sauce that’s more than one and a half years’ old still usable?

Canned - general guidelines? In this case, she has two cans of lite coconut milk that are between two years and almost two years old.

Bagged frozen - general guidelines? Here I’m looking at bags of frozen Ore-Ida tater tots from 2010.

Boxed items - croutons, jello, vacuum packed gnocchi and the like. Some don’t have expiration dates at all, but I suspect they are at least a year old.

I hope this isn’t too stupid of a question. I read recently that expiration dates are sometimes a best guess by the manufacturer and not a hard “past this date, you eat this and you DIE!!!”, but more like “past this date, you eat this and you will find it STALE!!!”

Check this website Eatbydate:
“We are a group of contributors from the kitchen and classroom communities who set out to answer the question, “How long does food really last?”… We are focused on helping you save money, eat healthy, and debunk the myth of expiration dates on food.”

If the jar is sealed, or the can isn’t rusty, the food inside should be safe to eat.

However, if in doubt, throw it out.

Only infant formula “expiration” dates have any honest, legal validity.

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating

All other “expiration” dates refer to marketing purposes and flavor/quality purposes.

Most food does not have an expiration date, it has a “sell by” or “best before” date.

I’d throw out anything stored in a box or paper bag, as it will be stale or full of mealy bugs.

I’d throw out the Ore-Idas, too, but that’s because I don’t like them.

Thanks, PastTense. I was able to extrapolate from the examples on that site to judge what I should keep and what I should throw away. For example, I used the guidelines for a jar of peanut butter to decide that the two year old jar of Thai peanut sauce is gonna get the old toss-a-roo.

The soups in the tetra paks were harder because the guidelines don’t include tetra paks (as far as I saw). So I made a judgement call using the info on canned vegetables (which is a pretty wide margin of “good for 1 - 2 years” past the date).

So, about half the stuff I was questioning I will keep and use as soon as possible.

My thanks to PastTense, too, for letting us know about that site. It’s great to have all that information in one place!