A Guide to Expiration Dates

Some people toss groceries out as soon as the expiration dates pass. Other hold on to their food uncomfortably too long. But, where’s the right balance? If you are tossing you food as it hits the sell by dates, you are most likely wasting more food than needed. In most cases, the dates on your containers aren’t definite expiration dates and the exact wording can mean a variety of things.

So, just what’s the difference between sell by, best by, and use by labels? Here is what you need to keep in mind:

Various Expiration Dates

The “Best By” Date

Food is generally safe for quite some time after the date printed, but the quality and the flavor of the food may start to decline after the day.

The “Use By” Date

Safety can be a concern if you are using a product after the use by date. While not a a hard and fast date, the quality may start to decline rapidly after the use by date.

The “Sell By” Date

This is exactly what it says, this is when the retailer should stop selling the product. It is generally an indication the product is 2/3rds through its shelf life. So, there is plenty of time for you to get use out of it.

You’re most likely tossing too soon.

So, to summarize, unless the phrase “for safety” is following the dates on your product, there isn’t a rush to throw them out, especially if you have not opened the product. HOWEVER, if you have opened the product, there is more risk of contamination. Some products, such as almond and soy milks, ¬†have a “use within” guide on them. As long as the package is unopened, the date is usually weeks in the future. But, once it’s opened, it’s better to use quickly.

Also, keep in mind the smell and taste is a good indication of whether something is spoiled, but it’s not perfect. Disease causing organisms can be growing on food and drink even if it don’t appear spoiled. So, if you’ve left something out on the counter, or your fridge is running warm, it’s better to play it safe and toss the products.