What Does That Expiration Date Really Mean on Food Items?
I remember several years back when a co-worker complained that a bag of potato chips purchased from our office vending machine expired a few days earlier.
I laughed and said I think it's perfectly fine. The chips will still be crunchy, and no need to worry that you might get ill after consuming those chips.
Recently, I read a note on social media from a friend addressing the expiration date issue. And he brought up some good points, I thought. His concern was the fact that too many times, food that reaches its expiration date, gets needlessly thrown out.
I don't know any facts or numbers on that thought, but it made me think about what exactly all those types of dates are printed or stamped on the food products you buy.
I ran across an article updated in September of 2021 from the Consumer Reports website that breaks down the touches on the subject of 'How to Tell Whether Expired Food Is Safe to Eat.'
So here are the stamps you may find on food items and what they mean:
The Best If Used By or Before means the food item is of the best quality.
The Sell By Date is set by the manufacturer and tells retail stores when the product needs to come off the shelves.
The Use By Date is the final date guaranteeing the best quality of that food item. Consumer reports note that it's not a safety date. Baby formula is the exception.
The Packaging or Manufacturing Date is simply the date that the manufacturer uses for tracking. It has nothing to do with food safety or quality.
According to the Share Food Program website, here are some other tips after the date:
Good Up To 1 Year - packaged food including, but not limited to cereal and pasta.
Good Up To 30 Days - eggs, butter and cheese.
Good Up To 7 Days - yogurt, cream cheese and milk.
Of course, use your best judgment with all foods. Consumer Reports notes that if you’re unsure whether that food item is worth holding on to for later consumption, check out the free USDA app - FoodKeeper for more information.
For refrigerated and pantry stored foods, I use what I call, the smell and sight test. If it smells bad, out it goes. If it looks funky, especially if you see the beginnings of mold...goodbye. For things like crackers or chips, if they look or taste stale, to the circular bin they go.
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