We asked a food-safety expert to find out.
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I wondered if the food inside of puffy packaging was safe to eat after I saw a TikTok video from Maneet Kaur, a food product developer in England. Kaur says in the video, "Both of these products are in date, but this one pack has blown and that basically means that the film is spongy to touch … That means there is bacteria inside this pack of food now, even though the packaging says it is in date, it is not safe to eat."

To see if this was true, I asked Meredith Carothers, a food safety expert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Carothers says that bloating of meat or poultry packages can happen for various reasons—and not all of them pose a risk. She says, "For example, some meats or poultry are packaged in 'MAP,' or modified atmosphere packaging."

Carothers explains that MAP is a packaging method in which a combination of gases is introduced into the package during processing and it can add a little bloating or swelling to things like meat, seafood, salad mixes or cheese. In this case, there's likely nothing to worry about. "The purpose of these approved, inert gases is to extend shelf life of the product," Carothers adds.

A swollen package of chicken on a designed background made up of exclamation points and a grid
Credit: Getty Images / John E. Kelly

On the other hand, Carothers says, some bloated or puffy packaging can pose a serious risk. "Swelling can occur in packaging due to gases formed as a result of spoilage taking place (bacterial growth can cause gas formation)," she says. Carothers says this type of spoilage can cause detectable odors, but "detecting an odor is not a reliable method of identifying when spoilage has occurred." So if your packaging looks a little swollen and there's an obvious smell, it's probably best to toss it or return it to your place of purchase if it's still within the best-by date.

Carothers says it's not worth risking potentially getting sick. She says, "We here at FSIS err on the side of caution and recommend when observing swollen, puffy packages, it's best to not use, as they are potentially spoiled and therefore risky or unsafe."

So if your package looks bloated, it's worth first checking the best-by or use-by date, paying attention to any noticeable odors and looking for any openings or rips in the packaging. If it's past the recommended date, has a funky smell or the packaging is open, don't purchase it or toss it immediately if you've already brought it home.