Did you know that the expiration dates on food products aren’t as crucial as we’ve been led to believe? In fact, only specific baby foods and infant formula are legally required to have these dates. Have you ever considered how a soft drink could possibly expire? While it’s true that most foods are still safe to eat even after their “expiration date” has long passed, their flavor might be slightly affected.
Before you toss out good food based on expiration dates, be sure to know what the codes mean:
– Sell by: Don’t buy the product after this date. This is the expiration date.
– Best if used by: Flavor or quality is best before this date, but the product is still edible thereafter.
– Use by: This is the last day that the manufacturer vouches for the product’s quality.
More Advisory Than Imperative
The dates listed on food products are basically guidelines, for both sellers and customers. Most of the dates are not actually expiration dates and don’t mean that you’ll get sick if you eat something that is past it’s best-by date.
Use Common Sense
You should, of course, use common sense. If a product has a bad smell or a bad look to it, don’t eat it. If it’s a box of crackers, you should be fine. Eggs are good for 3 to 5 weeks after their dates, and dairy may be, but use caution.
How you store your food products can also make a difference. Many people freeze meats after the use-by/freeze-by dates and find them still good when used. However, if you don’t wrap meats well enough, then the quality and safety can be harmed.
Sell-by dates usually allow additional time for storage at home. Generally, perishable products can be kept safely in your refrigerator for seven days after you buy them, even if that’s past the given date. Fresh meat is the exception. Don’t keep beef or pork for longer than three to five days before you use it or freeze it. And use poultry, seafood, and ground or chopped meat within two days (or freeze it).