It’s been just over a week since trick-or-treating brought hauls of candy into homes nationwide – and if your family is still working on chewing away the holiday, it’s important to note how long your Halloween treats are safe to eat.
Experts maintain that consuming aging sweets depends on a product’s expiration, storage technique and personal judgment calls. Still, it’s helpful to know basic guidance about the shelf life of your favorite treats at this time of year to both ensure safety and reduce waste.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, between consumers and the food industry as a whole, Americans are throwing out about one-third of the nation’s food – costing around $161 billion each year. The FDA largely attributes this to consumer uncertainty and confusion about the real meanings of labels that include “use before,” “expires on” and “sell by.”
Although there is no federal law requiring manufacturers to place an expiration date on food (with the exception of a few products), the FDA stresses that standardizing the term “Best if Used By” could help address that confusion.
A not-so-sweet arises:Prices for classic snacks such as Oreo cookies and Sour Patch Kids candy are about to rise
The myth of the poisoned Halloween candy:Here’s how often kids are actually injured from their trick or treat stash
Yes, candy and treats can expire. But expiration date labels don’t usually mark how long it’s safe to eat something. Instead, they time the “peak quality” of a product.
“It’s important to differentiate between ‘Is it safe to eat?’ and ‘Is it going to taste good when I eat it?'” Joell Eifert, director of the Food Innovations Program at Virginia Tech, told USA TODAY.
“Consumers can have that misconception that ‘Best By’ dates on food packaging equates to food safety. So, when we’re really talking about how long candy is good for, we’re usually speaking in terms of how long it’s going to taste good,” Eifert said, noting that most food safety issues in nonperishable, commercially produced foods (like Halloween candy) come from contamination, not age.
Previous reports show that while expired candy can carry microbes that may make you sick, it’s usually because something got into the food before the packaging was sealed. Serious health risks are rare.
To help guide the best post-holiday snacking, here’s a look at some of this season’s top treats and how long they last.
‘Best By’ labels:Will this make me sick? The date stamps on food items, explained
How much Halloween candy should you eat? Doctor tells kids to ‘eat whatever they want’
When does chocolate expire?
The life span of chocolate depends on the kind. Taste of Home reports that dark chocolate lasts the longest, up to two years. In comparison, “soft chocolates” like milk and white chocolates last eight to 10 months.
Chocolates with filling (including peanut butter, nuts or caramel) typically have shorter shelf lives, ranging from six to nine months.
Eifert adds that people might see a white coating on older chocolate called “bloom.” Bloom is not harmful and should not be confused with mold.
“If chocolate is held in poor conditions, under very wet conditions, you could get mold. But most of the time, even if that chocolate is held under cool, dry conditions, you’re still going to see this white coating… It could be either sugar or fat that is separating out from the chocolate and migrating to the top,” she said. “It might change the texture of the chocolate a bit, but it shouldn’t really affect the flavor too much, and it’s perfectly safe to eat.”
Like most candy, chocolate is best stored in dry, dark and cool spaces, or at room temperature. It can also be frozen.
“Light and heat will oxidize and causes rancid flavors, and those are the things that can affect, especially chocolates and candies, the most [in storage],” she said. “The cooler the temperature, the longer those ingredients are going to stay good tasting. … So you can certainly [store treats] in a pantry under cool, dry, dark conditions.”
What about gummies?
According to FoodKeeper, a smartphone app developed by the US Department of Agriculture to help consumers gauge whether their food is still good to eat, gummy snacks can have a similar timeline. If the gummies are sitting in the pantry, the USDA says they should be consumed within six to nine months from the date of purchase.
How about candy corn, caramel and jelly beans?
The shelf life for soft candies often depends on whether the packaging has been opened. According to the National Confectioners Association, if already opened, both caramel and jellied candies can be kept at room temperature for six to nine months. If unopened, they can last up to one year.
Opened packages of candy corn can be stored at room temperature for three to six months. Unopened candy corn can last nine months.
When do hard candies go bad?
Further guidance by the National Confectioners Association says that hard candies can last up to one year when stored in a cool, dry location or at room temperature.
How long do baked goods last?
Of all the holiday treats, baked goods have some of the shortest shelf lives. FoodKeeper advises that commercial cakes and muffins be eaten three to seven days from the date of purchase if stored in the pantry, seven to 10 days if stored in the fridge and up to six months if frozen.
Commercial cookies can last longer. According to FoodKeeper, if kept in the pantry, crispy cookies should be consumed within four to six months and soft cookies within two to three months. If frozen at the time of purchase, cookies can last up to a year.
Eifert stresses that homemade goods are more perishable. “With products that are made at home, we really encourage those to be consumed within a week,” she said.