Use by. Sale by. Expires on.
So many different stamps on our food! It’s hard to know what is safe to eat and what isn’t.
Regulation of food expiration dates is determined on a state level with 9 states having no regulations on the topic and other states having rules that vary wildly as you cross state lines.
Honestly, even the USDA knows we are confused and have created an app to help consumers understand food expiration dates. More often than not, the date pressed on the packaged has to do with quality control more than safety from food borne illness.
More than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely, and 40% of the U.S. food supply is tossed–unused–every year because of food dating.
What do the terms mean?
Best by, Best if used by, and Best before
These dates mark when the manufacturer thinks the product reaches peak freshness but does not indicate food spoilage. The food may still be safe to eat.
A sell by date is a signal from the manufacturer to the retailer to communicate the marketing target. The date indicated when the product should be returned from the shelf but is not an indicator of total shelf life.
An indicator by the manufacturer estimating when the product reaches peak freshness, the use by date may not indicate food spoilage. However, inspect the food before consuming.
Typically found only on baby formula, an “expires on” date should be used within one week.
How long does food really last?
If stored properly, your food will last longer than you probably think. Investing in airtight storage containers for your pantry, a refrigerator thermometer, and a sealing system for frozen foods are excellent investments for keeping your food fresh and increasing shelf life.
Most of the time, you can still eat food past its “best by” date without even noticing a change in taste or quality — that’s especially true of foods that do not need to be refrigerated.
But how long does food last… really?
Eggs can be eaten three to five weeks after purchase even if the usage date passes during that time. Hard cooked eggs may be stored for up to one week.
Boxed goods, such as pasta and granola bars, can be consumed even one year passed the “use by” date.
Ground meat, chicken, and fish can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to two days. Beef and pork in solid pieces can last up to five days. Optimally, all meats should be stored in the freezer and can last up to one year.
Pasteurized milk may be drinkable for 7 to 14 days after the date purchased if kept at a consistent 40° F or below.
Bread can be kept fresh in the refrigerator longer than on the counter, but the best place to store bread for optimal freshness is the freezer. Despite the dates on the package, you can use bread until it forms white or green spots. If you notice mold, the entire package should be tossed, not just the affected pieces.
Canned goods with high acid content, such as tomato sauce, will expire within 18 months of the date marked. However, canned beans and other vegetables may last up to five years. Regardless of the contents, the shelf life of canned goods can be greatly increased when stored in a dry, dark place with a temperature between 50° F and 70° F.
Cooked foods, such as meat, should be refrigerated immediately to avoid unsafe temperatures where bacteria can grow. Int he refrigerator, cooked foods should last up to four days.
Mayonnaise-based salads should be refrigerated and eaten within five days.
Your senses might be the best indicator
When checking the foods in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, your best indicator as to whether a food is safe to eat might be your built in senses.
Is there any unusual growth of bacteria? Is there a bulge in the can or package? Has the color changed? (Psst… color change should not be the only indicator.)
Does the food smell funny (beyond any natural scent)? If the fats or proteins within the product have broken down due to the presence of bacteria, the food will have an odor. For instance, if your meat smells like a dead animal – gross, right? – it is should not be consumed.
Is the food unusually slimy or sticky? Often, meat will discolor but the best test of whether meat is still safe is the texture. If the proteins have disintegrated leaving a slimy residue, toss it.
Is the flavor different from what it should be? Trust your tastebuds.
When bacteria increases the acid in foods, especially dairy, the result can be a sour flavor.
How much food have your thrown away in the last month?
Stop it! Take the Waste Not Want Not: Waste Nothing Challenge and refuse to waste any money or food for 31 days.
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