These Expiration Dates Have Their Own Version Of the 5-Second Rule

We often think that expiration dates are set in stone and as a result Americans end up throwing out 40 percent of the food they buy. In fact, many foods can be eaten well past their so-called expiration dates.

October 29, 2015
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Foods can contain a wide variety of dating, from sell-by to best If used by to expiration dates. Many Americans end up using these dates as concrete indications of when foods should be thrown out. But chucking foods while they’re still eatable is a waste of resources and in fact leads Americans to throw out40 percent of the food they buy. Let’s take a closer look at how you can cut back on food waste while at the same time, staying safe.

The Purpose Of Food Dating

Food dating has a variety of purposes. It helps stores decide how long they can sell a product and it helps consumers choose the best quality foods. When foods are handled correctly, they can often go well past the product’s date and still be safe to eat. With the exception of baby formula,food dating is in fact voluntary at the federal level, though many states do require it.

Food dating comes in a wide spectrum of forms:

Sell-by means you should buy the product by a particular date

Best if used by is the date that’s recommended for the best taste and quality

Use-by is the last date of peak quality

Expiration date is the last date a food should be eaten or used

If food develops an off-odor or the appearance of spoilage, it should be thrown out, no matter the expiration date. Additionally, make sure your refrigerator is set to40 degrees F so that food can safely be stored.

Product coding is usually found on shelf stable foods. Its purpose is less for food spoilage and more for tracking purposes when foods are recalled. These codes are also a requirement for interstate commerce, or selling products across state lines.

The Real Expiration Dates

Many foods can be eaten wellafter their expiration or sell-by dates, though the sniff test is still important. Eggs, for example, can be eaten 3 to 5 weeks after the day they were packed, which is usually beyond the expiration date. Poultry, ground meat, and ground poultry can be stored for 1 to 2 days and beef, veal, pork, and lamb can be stored for 3 to 5 days. Milk is usually fine a week after the sell-by date. Bacon and hot dogs are good for two weeks, 7 days if opened and luncheon meats are fine for 2 weeks or 3 to 5 days if opened.

Canned foods can last an eternity, especially if they’re stored in a cold, dark place. Make sure that the area isn’t damp, which can erode cans and cause them to spoil faster than usual. Your Depression era grandmother was right to store a year’s worth of food in the cellar. While you might not want to live on canned pears and Spaghetti O’s, you could for a long time if you had to. Acidic canned foods like tomato sauce keep for 18 months while low acid foods like green beans can last up to five years. Cans that are bulging from spoilage should be discarded immediately. If you’ve canned foods yourself, even though they don’t have an expiration date, they don’t last as long as manufactured canned foods.Home canned foods can be stored for one year.

Stop Wasting Food

Food waste is a big problem in the U.S. As I said above, Americans waste 40 percent of the food they buy. We throw away$165 billion worth of food annually. I said billion, not million. Reducing this food waste by just 15 percent would feed some 25 million Americans. Knowing what you now know, reducing food waste is easier than ever.

Perishable foods can last months longer if they’re frozen before the expiration date. For the most part, if foods look and smell fresh, they are likely still fresh. Furthermore, resist the urge to overbuy, especially when it comes to foods like dairy, bread, produce, seafood, and meat. These foods are not only expensive, they don’t last as long so when they go bad you end up wasting tons of cash.

Food dating is meant to help manufacturers, store owners, and consumers, but it’s not set in stone. You’re the best judge of your food’s freshness.

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