Those pesky expiration dates on the food you buy may be largely meaningless. That’s the latest word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a public service video that says food still remains safe up to 18 months after the “sell-by” date on the package.
"Many products may have a sell-by date of say April 1 but they could be good in your pantry for another 12 or 18 months. And by throwing those out, what you're doing, is you're contributing to food waste in the United States," a USDA official explains in the video.
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The USDA estimates 36 pounds of food per person is wasted every month — about one-fifth of the food produced in the United States. Those overly cautious expiration dates are partly to blame.
The USDA doesn't require food dating for safety, except for a few items such as baby food and infant formula. The Food and Drug Administration also notes that food dating relates to the quality of products, not safety. Food-labeling laws vary by state and are primarily advisory, with most requiring dairy products and other perishables be sold before the expiration date.
"Many consumers confuse 'sell-by' with 'use-by' [dates]," notes Ethel Tiersky, a food-safety specialist who runs the nonprofit ShelfLifeAdvice.com Website, which provides information on hundreds of foods, based reliable expert sources.
"The former is intended to tell store managers that it's time to take the product off the shelf, but they're not legally obliged to. It does NOT mean the product is spoiled or contaminated."
Tiersky tells Newsmax Health
there are three types of food-labeling dates consumers need to know and understand:
You shouldn't buy a product from a store after this day (also known as the "expiration date"). But a food product in your fridge or pantry that is so dated is, in all likelihood, still edible days or even weeks afterward (depending on what it is).
This is the last day that a food manufacturer will guarantee a product's quality, but it does not mean the food is unsafe or should be discarded after this date.
Best if used by:
The flavor or quality of a food product may not be as good after this day. But it may still be OK to eat.
She adds that all food products will spoil eventually, of course, but in most cases labels aren't a good indication of when.
"It depends how long after its sell-by date you're talking about," she says. "Canned goods generally have a use-by date, not a sell-by date. Chances are, the food isn't spoiled after the use-by date either unless the can looks bloated, dented, or rusty.
"Milk usually has a sell-by rather than a use-by date, and I reach further back on the shelf to get the container that has the most recent date and is, therefore, the freshest."
To help consumers determine whether a food product is still good to eat after its sell-by, use-by, or best-if-used-by date, ShelfLifeAdvice.com has compiled the following list from a variety of university studies, government experts, and other reliable food-safety sources.
, properly refrigerated, is still good about a week after its "sell-by" date. (As with many food products, a "sniff test" is usually sufficient to determine when milk is past its prime.)
, especially commercial Pasteurized varieties, lasts for 10-14 days after the date on the packaging. Beyond then, look for signs of mold.
can be safely eaten up to 10 days after its "sell-by" date; beyond then the live bacterial cultures (which are healthful ingredients, and act as preservatives) will start to die.
is still good for a month after its expiration date (unopened) and up to four months after opening.
, properly refrigerated, should last at least three to five weeks after the "sell-by" date.
are good to eat long after labeling dates, as long as the can is in good shape. If a can is dented, rusted, or swollen, toss it out.
Many other products — including cheese, condiments, butter/margarine, fruit juices — can all be safely consumed long after the labeling dates suggest.
In general, experts recommend consumers apply some common-sense judgments, when deciding whether to keep or toss a food product after its "sell-by" date:
- Check for spoilage. Mold or a slimy, discolored appearance can indicate the presence of bacteria.
- Is it appetizing? If the product smells bad or looks unappealing, don't eat it.
- Evaluating frozen foods. Pathogens don’t grow on frozen food, so freezing something can preserve its freshness for many months.
- Assessing pantry foods. Shelf-stable dry goods that contain no moisture or fat last long past the "use-by," so trust your senses of smell and taste to guide your decisions about such products.
- Combating food-borne illnesses. Most cases of food poisoning are not caused by "old food" that is past its "use-by" date. Food-borne illnesses are usually due to improper hand-washing, keeping food at the wrong temperature, insufficient washing of foods, cross-contamination (bringing a food that is served raw in contact with contaminated meats and other items).
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