It’s happened to all of us. You’ve carefully planned your menu and shopped for ingredients. Only to find the meat’s sell-by-date has passed. Not by much. But still passed. What do you do? Is it still safe to eat? Harvard researchers say, no.
According to a new Harvard study, old food can shorten your lifespan.
Much has yet to be discovered on lifespan. Yet a leading idea in the field is that throughout life, our bodies accumulate cellular damage. That might include oxidative cell damage and DNA damage – or a combination.
Harvard’s Vladim Gladyshev wondered then whether organisms might also be able to acquire cellular damage from their food as well.
The theory: “Food is broken down and used as the building blocks for many cellular processes, so eating older organisms – which have more molecular damage themselves – might cause an animal to age faster than one that eats younger organisms with less molecular damage.”
With a team of researchers, “Gladyshev and colleagues examined three different organisms – yeast, mice and fruit flies – and how they reacted to different aged foods over a period of years.” They looked primarily at the age of meat and its effect on the subjects.
Researchers found “those that were fed ‘younger food’ – i.e., fresh produce – consistently suffered less cellular damage.” Which shows us, “that these age-related changes that accumulate are truly deleterious,’ Gladyshev said. ‘And that provides a fundamental insight into the aging process.'”
In the series of experiments, they found conclusive evidence that eating “old food” shortened lifespan. Specifically, “The old diet shortened lifespan by 18 percent in yeast and 13 percent in flies. In the mice, the old diet shortened lifespan by 13 percent in female mice, but there was no significant effect among males.”
We all know that fresh food tastes better. We now know that it’s also better for our bodies and may, in fact, increase our lifespan.
While further research is needed, here is a takeaway from the study.
In an interview with Gladyshev, Harvard Magazine sums up his thoughts, “Aging is the most important biological question.” It is at the root of so many diseases. “Even if we eliminate cancer, for example, the effect would be minor, because of all the other diseases of aging: diabetes, Alzheimer’s, sarcopenia, cardiovascular disease, and so on and so on.” All of those maladies will still add up. “But if we can learn how to slow down the aging process, we can deal with all of those diseases at once. We delay their appearance. That’s why it’s important to study these fundamental questions, to ask: what is aging?”
Market “Sell By Dates” and What It Means
How old is too old?
According to MeatSafety.org, you will find the following codes on packages of meat sold at local markets.
- “Sell By” date – tells the retailer how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires. This date most often appears on processed products that are sealed in a plant, like hotdogs or sausages.
- “Best if Used By” date – Date by which product should be used for best flavor and quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. After this date, the product could develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria.
- “Use-By” date – the last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality. The manufacturer determines this date. After this date, consumers should not purchase the product.
When Buying Meat, Check These Factors
1. Sell-By Dates
Before buying any meat, check the sell-by or expiry date on the product. Do not buy any meat that has passed this date. If the product doesn’t have a date, don’t buy it.
Color is an excellent way to determine meat freshness, even before the expiry date. The USDA says, “Color is also influenced by the age of the animal, the species, sex, diet, and even the exercise it gets. The meat from older animals will be darker in color because the myoglobin level increases with age. Exercised muscles are always darker in color, which means the same animal can have variations of color in its muscles.”
An off odor will indicate spoilage.
USDA warns that spoiled “meat or poultry will have an off odor, be sticky or tacky to the touch, or it may be slimy. If meat has developed these characteristics, it should not be used.”
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