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Food expiration dates: What all the dates mean and if you can keep things past the ‘best by’ date

Food expiration dates are a common sight on the labels of various food products we purchase. They play a crucial role in ensuring our food is safe to eat and maintaining its quality. However, understanding these dates can be a bit confusing. This article aims to demystify food expiration dates by explaining what they mean, how to interpret them, and the importance of following them.

Types of Food Expiration Dates

“Use By” Date: This date is typically found on perishable items like dairy products, meats, and prepared foods. It signifies the last date the product is expected to be at its peak quality, and it’s recommended not to consume the product after this date.

“Best By” Date: This date is seen on non-perishable items like canned goods, dry goods, and some snacks. It indicates the date until which the product is expected to maintain its optimal quality, such as taste and texture, but it can still be safe to consume afterward.
“Sell By” Date: This date is primarily for retailers, helping them manage stock rotation. Consumers can often consume products after the “sell by” date if they have been stored properly.

Can you keep things past the “best by” date?

Yes, you can often keep and consume food past the “best by” date. The “best by” date is primarily an indicator of when the product is expected to be at its peak quality in terms of taste, texture, and freshness, according to the manufacturer. It is not a strict safety deadline like the “use by” date.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether to use a product past its “best by” date:
Storage Conditions: The way you store the product plays a significant role. If you have stored the item properly, it may still be safe and acceptable to consume even after the “best by” date.
Visual and Sensory Evaluation: Before consuming a product past its “best by” date, inspect it visually and use your senses. If it looks, smells, or tastes normal, it is likely safe to eat. Conversely, if it appears spoiled, has an off-putting odor, or tastes bad, it’s best to discard it.
Product Type: Some products, like dry goods (e.g., pasta, rice), canned goods, and certain condiments, can often be consumed safely well beyond their “best by” dates as long as they are stored properly. However, for items like dairy products and fresh meats, it’s generally best to adhere more closely to the dates.
Manufacturer Recommendations: Pay attention to any specific guidance provided by the manufacturer on the packaging regarding the use of the product after the “best by” date.
While you can use products past their “best by” date, it’s essential to exercise caution and common sense. If there is any doubt about the safety or quality of a product, it’s safer to discard it to avoid potential health risks. Remember that the “best by” date is a quality indicator, not a hard and fast rule for food safety.

Understanding Food Safety

While expiration dates are helpful guides, they do not always indicate food safety issues. The safety of food depends on various factors, including storage conditions and the nature of the product. Here’s what you should keep in mind:
Storage Matters: Proper storage is crucial to maintain food safety. Refrigerate perishables promptly, store dry goods in a cool, dry place, and follow any specific storage instructions on the product packaging.
Visual and Sensory Inspection: If a product looks, smells, or tastes unusual, it’s best to discard it, regardless of the expiration date. Trust your senses as they can often detect spoilage before expiration dates are reached.
High-Risk Foods: Certain foods, like raw meat and seafood, pose a higher risk of foodborne illnesses. Follow safe handling practices and consume them within the recommended timeframes.
Freezing: If you have food close to its expiration date that you can’t consume in time, consider freezing it. Many items can be safely stored in the freezer for extended periods.

Reducing Food Waste

While it’s essential to prioritize food safety, it’s also crucial to be mindful of food waste. Here are some tips to help you strike a balance:
Meal Planning: Plan your meals to use up perishable items before they expire. This can save you money and reduce food waste.
Buy in Smaller Quantities: Purchase perishable items in smaller quantities, especially if you don’t consume them frequently.
Credit: Cooktopcove

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