Best By & Use By Dates

Is Expired Food Safe to Eat?

Every day the average American throws out nearly a pound of food, according to a study from the Department of Agriculture.

Ninety percent of Americans misinterpret the dates on labels, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and they throw out food that could still be consumed or frozen for later use. If expiration dates aren’t a reliable gauge of food spoilage, how do you know what to keep and what to toss?

Date Labels and What They Actually Mean

With the exception of baby formula, there are no federal regulations on date labeling. Often the “best if used by,” “sell by,” and “use by” designations are just a manufacturer’s best guess about how long their food will taste its freshest. Supermarkets may also use the dates as a guide when stocking shelves. But the dates have little to do with how safe the food is.

  • Best If Used By/Before. This guarantees when a product is of the best quality or flavor. For instance, a jar of salsa may not taste as fresh or crackers may be soft instead of crisp after this date. It’s not about safety.
  • Sell By. This is the date set by manufacturers to tell retailers when to remove a product from shelves. The goal is to ensure that consumers have products at their best quality, which can be several days to several weeks, depending on the item. For instance, milk, assuming proper refrigeration, should last five to seven days past its sell-by date before turning sour.
  • Use By. This is the last date that guarantees the best quality of a product. This is also not a safety date except when used on infant formula.
  • As a general rule of thumb, most canned foods (for example, canned tuna, soups, and vegetables) can be stored for two to five years, and high-acid foods (canned juices, tomatoes, pickles) can be stored for a year up to 18 months, according to the USDA. Watch out for dents and bulges in cans, though. That might be a sign it’s time to toss those products.
  • If you’re still not sure whether a product or item is worth saving past its date label, a free app the USDA created, FoodKeeper, will help you determine how soon specific items—everything from oats to coconut milk to maple syrup—should be consumed if it’s stored in the pantry, or how long it will last in your refrigerator once it’s opened. FoodKeeper for Android devices and FoodKeeper for Apple devices.

Here’s a few Tips to help you Stop Wasting food:

  • Freeze it. Frozen foods won’t go bad because bacteria and other pathogens can’t grow in frozen temperatures. This even applies to milk, bread, cheese, and raw eggs (crack and lightly beat them first).
  • Save that fruit. According to the NRDC, fruit is one of the most common items to be tossed prematurely. Fruits like bruised apples, overripe bananas, and citrus like oranges and Clementine’s that have dried up can be used in various recipes. Check out the “Amazing Waste Cookbook,” (PDF) created by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Extend the life of produce. There are tricks for extending the shelf life of veggies, like wrapping broccoli in a damp paper towel, keeping celery in tinfoil instead of plastic, and putting asparagus in a glass with a half-inch of water.
  • If you have a Sealer machine, this is even better than simply freezing your packaged item. Open those canned foods that are getting close to their questionable toss by date, seal it and freeze it. You can also open other type packages of food, seal them and freeze them as well. By doing this, you have just extend its life even farther there suggested dates, plus you just saved money too! For food items that have liquid added to their content such as soups and the like, first open the item and place it in a container and freeze until it is frozen solid. Then, take it out of the freezer and apply a little warmth to the container so the item will slip out, then reseal it using your sealer machine and place back in the freezer.
  • If you’re a gardener, composting way-past-its-prime produce or packaged foods such as bread is a great way to recycle food without contributing to more waste. If you’re not a gardener, give it to one of your neighbors, friends or other family member for their composter.

Following the tips above will save you plenty of money.

For a great read you’ll find the entire article here By Lea Ceasrine.