FOOD EXPIRATION DATES
If any of your food has reached or gone past the recommended food expiration dates, what should you do? Does it mean the food is bad and should be discarded?
Actually, different expired foods can present different risks. For example, the expiration dates on eggs may mean you can actually continue to use them for a few more days before throwing them away. However, using chicken a few days past the expiration date may be dangerous. On the other hand, eating past the food expiration dates on canned goods or cereal packages would probably still be safe.
FOOD EXPIRATION DATES LABELS
It is important for consumers to understand the dates found on most foods (with the exception of baby food and formula) are not meant to indicate safety, but quality.
Even though most food is safe to consume after the food expiration dates, it is, of course, always prudent to personally evaluate the quality of any food prior to cooking or eating. Most spoiled foods will develop an off odor and the texture may significantly change.
Generally speaking, if you have properly handled and stored food at home, it should be safe even if the food expiration dates have passed. The rules for how long to keep certain foods as listed below apply to store bought food, not home made items. Always have labels and markers ready to note when an item was purchased if there is no expiration date available or if it was made at home.
Rotation of food in the refrigerator and freezer according to the marked dates, as well as the use of the information below to understand how long certain foods can be kept before spoiling, can also greatly help to eliminate food waste, saving both time and money.
COMMONLY USED LABELS FOR
FOOD EXPIRATION DATES
The commonly used labels for food expiration dates are not required by law on all products. Again, they do not indicate safety, but quality. Some are used for consumers and others for distributors and retail stores only:
- Best if Used By/Before - This label simply indicates when a product will be at optimum flavor or quality. If the date has passed and the food is not showing signs of spoilage, it should be fine to use and it may be sold, purchased, donated, and consumed. This is the label recommended by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to manufacturers and retailers of foods because it best conveys to consumers to use the product by the date shown to be assured it will be of best quality.
- Sell-By - This label is meant for inventory management only in retail locations where the product is sold and is not a safety date.
- Use-By - This label contains the last date recommended for the use of the product at optimal quality. It is not a safety date (except when used on infant formula or baby food and is the same as the Best if Used By/Before label above).
HOW ARE QUALITY FOOD EXPIRATION DATES DETERMINED?
Quality food expiration dates are determined by a combination of the following factors:
- The length of time food is held during distribution and sale.
- The temperature at which a food is held during distribution and sale.
- The characteristics of the food.
- The type of packaging.
FOOD EXPIRATION DATES ON CANNED GOODS
Canned goods are required to display a code or the date of canning. They may also display a calendar date which is usually a Best If Used By date for optimal quality.
Regardless of the date found on cans, always discard any cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen. Small dents may be okay. Inspect carefully dents in seams.
High-acid canned foods such as tomatoes and fruits can be stored with their quality intact between 12 to 18 months. Low-acid canned foods, such as meats and vegetables can keep their quality for 2 to 5 years.
DATES ON EGG CARTONS
Although the use of a Sell-By or Expiration Date is not a federal regulation, different states may have egg laws requiring them. Some states actually do not allow the use of a Sell-By Date on egg cartons.
Egg cartons with the USDA Grade Shield on them must display the day the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton. This is the pack date and consists of a three-digit code representing each consecutive day of the year starting with January 1st as 001 and ending with December 31st as 365. Should a Sell-By Date appear on any carton with the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 30 days from the pack date.
Always store eggs in their original carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not on the door.
FOODS YOU MUST NEVER EAT PAST THE EXPIRATION DATE
Please continue reading here for these foods as well as a full list of foods you can eat past the expiration date and an answer as to why there is so much confusion...