Expiration dates? Sell-by dates? Use-by dates? Package dates? What do they all mean and when is your food truly no longer safe to eat? These labels can be confusing and as a result, 1/3 of consumers are throwing away food much before it has become unsafe to eat. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a study suggesting that the average American household spends more than $2000 in wasted food per year. Below are some helpful tips to make the most out of the food you are buying.
Expiration Dates: Expiration dates are the most concrete date in these labeling systems. If a product is past an expiration date, throw it out. Although some items may still be safe to consume, their effectiveness and quality has likely drastically decreased. It is most common to find expiration dates on items such as: baby formula, baby food, vitamins, over the counter medications, yeast, cake mixes and pectin.
Best if Used By or Best By Dates: These dates indicate when a product will be at its best flavor and quality. Many foods, such as canned goods can go past the “best by” date, but the overall quality and texture may start to decline. Make sure to thoroughly inspect foods past their best by dates in order to ensure there is no visible mold or spoilage.
Sell By Date: Sell by dates indicate how long a store or market can display a product for inventory management. It is not specifically associated with food safety in any way. Here are a few common grocery items that have sell by dates.
Milk – milk is good for about a week after the sell by date
Eggs – eggs can be used 3-5 weeks past the sell by date
Meat – fresh meat products should be cooked or frozen within 3 days of their sell by date
: Packaged Date: A pack date is the date the product was packaged. This information is generally not intended for consumers, but much like the sell by date, it helps keep track of inventory. Bakery items such as breads and pastries may often times have a packaged date. Use your best judgement when inspecting these products and try to use within a week of the packaging date.