Do Food Expiration Dates Really Matter?headingContent

Posted on November 01, 2013

woman reviewing item label in a storeAre you guilty of going in your refrigerator, finding an item with an expired food date label and tossing it into the garbage? If you answered yes, you are not alone. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, we waste 40 percent of the food we produce. That’s about 160 billion pounds annually.  This wasted food is worth an estimated $165 billion per year.  One of the reasons for this waste is that consumers don’t understand the meaning of food date labels, which leads them to prematurely throw away usable food.

Usually, you’ll see three types of expiration dates on food, and they all mean slightly different things. However, contrary to popular belief, they refer to the quality of the food, not the safety. Here’s what you need to know about food expiration dates:

Sell By – This date tells the store how long to keep the item on their shelves. They are intended for stock control. They are not indicators of food quality or food safety. Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry, milk and eggs.

Best If Used By – This date indicates when the quality of the item starts to go bad. In foods that have this label, you may start to notice gradual changes in the product’s texture, color or flavor, but most of the time it’s still safe to eat. For example, sour cream may become a bit more sour, or you may see oil separation in a peanut butter bottle.

Use By – This pretty much serves the same purpose as a “Best Used By” label . The “Use By” date is when the product loses its peak quality. But it’s still safe to eat for a little while.

Not sure if the milk and eggs have gone bad, or if a product is still OK a day or two after the “Use By” date has expired? Use your nose and if it smells OK, it’s probably safe to eat.

For more information on food expiration dates and how to best store food to make them last longer, speak to a dietician or your Tenet Physician.