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Do you really need to worry about expiration dates on food?

BarnacleBob

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#1
We’ve all been there: You head to the grocery store and stock up on a ton of fresh produce and good-for-you snacks with the best of intentions. But then takeout ends up being the best and quickest option after a long ride or a long day at work, and you end up with a fridge full of food about to go bad.

If you’re like most people, trying to determine if your food is past its prime by looking at the date labels — best if used by, sell-by, use-by, freeze-by — can be a confusing web to untangle.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it supported the food industry’s effort to standardize the term “Best if Used By” on its packaging if the date referred to quality and freshness, not safety, says Julia McCarthy, a senior policy associate for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

This effort, McCarthy says, aims to prevent food waste and help consumers avoid confusion on whether their food is still “good.”

But relying on date labels to determine whether a food is “still good” is where things can get confusing. McCarthy weighs in on the various food labels and how best to understand them.

The claim:

Without being too dramatic, there’s a general thought that if you eat a food after the date on the label, you’re headed for a foodborne illness disaster.

According to the FDA, there are a handful of commonly used phrases for date labels:

A “Best If Used By/Before” date states when a product will have its best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long the product can be displayed for sale, which helps with inventory management. It is not a safety date.
A “Use-By” date is the last date the product will be at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

“There is a hodgepodge of phrases that appear on food package labels and the ‘Best If Used By’ is one that we know consumers understand best,” McCarthy says. “It indicates freshness, not food safety.”

The evidence:

When it comes to date labeling, there are no federal regulations, except for infant formula, which is labeled for food safety, McCarthy says. That means manufacturers can voluntarily label their packages to help consumers understand how long their products will be at peak quality or freshness.

“There are a variety of factors that affect food safety — including temperature, length of time [food] is in distribution, how long it’s in the store, how long it’s in your fridge — that it’s really hard for manufacturers to predict when, exactly, a food is no longer safe,” McCarthy says. “Usually you are the best person to tell that. Your nose is your best friend.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, some 30 percent of food is lost or wasted in stores or at home. A large part of that problem, McCarthy says, is confusion from the date labels on food.

“The real problem with [a term like expiration] is consumers don’t know if that means quality or safety,” she says. “And the answer is it’s neither. That’s [in part] because the industry is using [the terms] inconsistently.”

McCarthy says the effort by the FDA and the food industry to use “Best If Used By” across the board will hopefully lessen confusion among consumers and reduce food waste.

The verdict:

Okay, so does that mean you can eat food past these dates? In a word, yes.

The FDA states: “If the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident.”

McCarthy says there are simple ways to determine if you really do need to chuck that milk that’s been in your fridge for a couple of weeks. “Smell is a very good indicator of whether a product is still good,” she says.

You can also look for mold and texture — milk, for example, might be more solid or lumpy when it’s spoiled.

McCarthy might also do a quick taste test.

“But most consumers don’t have as liberal an attitude as I do in tasting milk,” she says.

In an effort to reduce food waste, McCarthy recommends avoiding buying perishable items in bulk, skipping the impulse buys at grocery stores and freezing fruits and vegetables if you haven’t used them in a few days after purchase.

Use those frozen veggies in a soup or stew, and frozen fruit in a smoothie, she says.

As for those shelf-stable items we commonly use for long rides — gels, chews, waffles, sports drinks — use the date label as a guide but not an ultimatum.

“The dates on the packages are indicators of freshness, and you can consume these after the ‘Best If Used By’ date. Just smell or taste them and make a game-time decision,” McCarthy says.

https://www.wpbf.com/article/expiration-dates-on-food/28898894
 

the_shootist

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I still have a can of SPAM in the cabinet with a sell-by date of 26AD. The salt keeps what little meat there is in the can as fresh as one of Irons' Romper Room gals on a Sunday morning !
 

DodgebyDave

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I'm more concerned about the expiration date on me!
 

the_shootist

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ErrosionOfAccord

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If shaken milk makes bubbles its fine, no bubbles = no good.
 
Last edited:

EricTheCat

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For eggs, if they don't float in cold water they are probably good to eat.

I am a strong proponent for if it looks okay and smells okay it's probably okay. I am extra careful about raw poultry, however (freeze it if I don't use it in a day).
 

Fatrat

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People on Youtube eating old rations...
 

michael59

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I am just cool with all of it as I know people eat 'Palute'(?) and as far as eggs go not all of them float when bad. Found that out after I did the float and then boiled about 40 that din't. But they were green and stinky when cracked. Aww, the good old days of drinking beer and pickling eggs, soon to be repeated next spring.
 

Uncle

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I am just cool with all of it as I know people eat 'Palute'(?) and as far as eggs go not all of them float when bad. Found that out after I did the float and then boiled about 40 that din't. But they were green and stinky when cracked. Aww, the good old days of drinking beer and pickling eggs, soon to be repeated next spring.
Balute.

Don't google it.

Golden Regards
Uncle
 

Someone_else

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#14
Hell, I eat scrapple, I think I'll be okay
My grandfather once took a liking to scrapple. Ugh! As a kid, I remember it as really bad hash. I liked hash (small potato and pork bits), but scrapple was nasty. Then he tried "fresh side", some kind of uncured bacon. Cooked pork is fine, bacon is fine, but "fresh side" was nasty. Many decades later, I know how to prepare all kinds of pork, but I still don't know what was behind the abomination "fresh side".