Wait, eat, it’s not scary – Halloween candy probably good for longer than you think

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Halloween Pumpkin Jack O’ Lantern Candy Bucket is covered with a face mask in this file photo. (Getty Images)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s almost Christmas, and some of those fun-sized candy bars collected at Halloween are still hanging around. Are they still safe to eat? Should you look for a “best by” date?

A food scientist said the goodies are probably just fine — and will be for many months to come.

“If you keep it stored and (in a) dry, cool area, unopened candy, can last as long as years,” Joell Eifert of Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology, said.

Joell Eifert

“I think a lot of consumers have this misconception that ‘best by’ dates on food equates to food safety, and in most cases, it doesn’t,” added Eifert, who directs the university’s food innovations program. “And that includes candy.”

Eifert said it’s important to differentiate between food safety and “what can be good tasting when we do eat it.”

Whether people are swayed by a “best if used by” label or they’re thrown by changes in food’s appearance, misperceptions about safety can produce some negative consequences.

“It’s equating to we’re throwing out food and we’re wasting when we don’t have to throw out.”

Eifert provided the following sweet rules of thumb:

  • Hard candy – Up to a year, room temperature, dry location.
  • Chocolate – Dark chocolate, 1-2 years if foil wrapped and kept in cool, dark, dry place. Milk/white chocolate, 8 to 10 months.
  • Jellied candies – 12 months in unopened package, 6-9 months after opening if stored in dark, cool place.
  • Gum — If packaged and in cool, dry place out of sunlight, 6 to 9 months.
  • Caramel — 6 to 9 months or more if covered, away from heat and light.

All those labels from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can create uncertainty, Eifert said. But those agencies have few instances where expiry dates on a label equate to food safety.

She said baby formula is the only exception under FDA purview, and that’s due to nutrient diminishment over time. Other non-perishables are designed for long-term safety.

“If it’s in the package and it hasn’t been disrupted from its package, it should be safe at day zero and it should be safe at day 452,” Eifert said. “However, it might not (taste) so great and ergo that’s why manufacturers put that on there.”

Often, though, even taste isn’t affected much by time or appearance. A perfect example is when chocolate begins to get paler after time.

Eifert said that’s not mold.

“In most cases, it’s harmless,” she said. “Certainly if the candy has been stored improperly, unopened, in a really wet place, absolutely mold can happen in candy.”

Usually, though, that discoloration is due to an effect called “bloom,” in which fat separates from the rest of the chocolate and is sitting on the surface.

“It doesn’t usually disrupt the flavor. It may affect the texture a little bit over time but it certainly is absolutely safe to eat.”

Eifert suggested anyone who wants to know more detail should visit the National Confectioners Association website. Their “candy storage tips” page is at the bottom of the website’s Halloween section.

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