Background info: the couple of times I have been in China and tried to buy some food from shops, I have noticed that all the things on sale were already past their expiry date. When discussing this with a Chinese friend, I was told this is pretty normal and not to be worried about. We both live in Western Europe.

My question: Whenever this friend goes back to China, they always bring me some gift: usually it consists of cookies or other food, which is always past the expiry date. As long as it is dry food (cookies, tea), I have no problem giving it a try. However, when it's coated or stuffed items (like stuffed cookies) a couple of months or more past the expiry date, I am not willing to take the risk, though I have an hard time throwing it away (blame the education I was given).

How can I politely make clear that I am glad to receive and consume those gifts, but I would rather prefer them not being expired?

  • 1
    Where do you come from originally? Is your friend aware that expired foods are not looked upon fondly where you are?
    – user8671
    Jul 23, 2018 at 9:49
  • 4
    ALso is the date in US or European format MM/DD/YY or DD/MM/YY
    – mmmmmm
    Jul 23, 2018 at 14:07
  • 2
    ... or even YYMMDD.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 23, 2018 at 14:20
  • Depending on where you are, you might also want to check on the regulations about bringing food into your country (some places are very strict). If this has happened several times, it's quite possible they're not bringing anything illegal back, but it may be worth checking.
    – TripeHound
    Jul 26, 2018 at 14:45
  • @Mark Also in the US the date is typically referred to a "best used by date," now, not expiration.
    – Andy
    Jul 28, 2018 at 14:22

4 Answers 4


Assuming your friend doesn't want to kill you, you probably should ask straight ahead:

This item seems expired, is it still good to eat?

To which you can receive one of several answers, including:

  • Oh, silly goose, that's production date, this meat has months of shelf life! I eat it all the time

  • Oh my, you are right, I am sorry. Probably safer to toss that chicken leg

  • Yeah, it is expired, but I think this jello item is still god for another week. I ate it few days ago and it seems fine

After that you should use your best judgement to make decision. Right now, so it seems, you just don't have enough information

PS: What you probably won't hear is "How dare you! I bring you gifts and you are asking questions instead of consuming unfamiliar foods immediately"


I can't imagine anything bad coming out of it if you just ask your friend about whether or not your food is expired. I haven't noticed anything in the shops being expired when I lived in China, but perhaps your friend is from a different region...

As some people already pointed out, in China dates are not written the same way as in Europe. The format is year/month/day, so check first whether or not it actually is expired. Additionally a lot of packaging has both the manufacture date (Chinese:生产日期) and expiry date (Chinese:保质期) on them, so be sure to check the right date (could you ask your friend to help?). Also some food shows the amount of time it can be kept, but no actual expiry date.

If the food really is out of date, then you could just tell your friend about it in a private conversation. Something like

Hey, (name here), thank you for giving me gifts when you return from China, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. I have been noticing that the things you give me seem past the expiry date. I could be wrong, but if it is so, could you avoid doing that as I would rather not eat expired food?

should be fine. If you don't want to be direct, you could just ask them to show you where the expiry date is. Chinese people tend to care more than Europeans how they appear to others, so it is not likely that your friend will knowingly give you expired food if they know it is not the norm to eat it in your country. If it is the case, they will probably avoid doing it in the future. Also, a lot of Chinese people are concerned about food hygiene these days as well, so if your friend is a reasonable person they are not likely to be offended at your request to not eat expired food.


Your friend probably doesn't know what to give you but feels obligated to bring something back for you, so he chooses whatever is handy (like reduced / expired food).

The way to go is to tell him what you prefer. You already explained that you have no problem consuming dry food beyond the date of expiration.

You could tell him:

Hey, you remember the (food of choice) you brought from China last year? I liked that a lot. Could you bring me something like that again? Or a variation of it, so I can sample different types.

You could request a non-food item in the same way.

I heard there are these cool (item of choice) in China. If you see one of them during your trip, could you buy ot for me?

Or you could bring up the problem of expiration date in a gentle way.

I was quite gratefull for the (bad food example) you gave me last year, but it had a funny taste. I don't know if there was an ingredient I didn't like or if it was expired, but I didn't enjoy it as much as (food of choice).

Basicly you give your friend the chance to be polite and possibly take the burden of choosing a suitable gift off his shoulders.


Personally, I usually err on the side of graciously accepting the gift (and then if it's not to my liking for whatever reason, privately proceeding accordingly). Particularly if a more distant friend or acquaintance is involved, it can seem ungrateful to ask too many questions about a gift.

Thank your friend for the food, and then if you feel it might be unsafe to eat, just throw it out and don't bring up the fact. It's the thought that counts anyhow!

Alternately, if you have a bit closer and more honest type of friendship, you could try affecting the situation indirectly, "Could you please bring me tea instead of food when you go to China?" Or more directly, "I know it's common in China and I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but food past the expiry date makes me nervous, and I don't like to eat it."

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