Food labels are packed with information: nutrition details, ingredients, many even have "sell by dates" stamped right on the package. However, those dates are often accompanied by language such as "use by" or "best if used by" and may leave consumers more confused than informed.
"I definitely will not buy something if it's past the expiration date," said Stephanie Offut.
As a busy mom, Offut relies on all those dates stamped on food because she says, she wants to make sure what she feeds her family is safe to eat. As a result, though, a lot of good food at her house may be going to waste.
"When it says something like "best if used by;' I'm not really sure if that means it goes bad after that date."
The federal government only requires poultry, infant formula and some baby foods to carry product dating. The dates on everything else almost always indicates freshness, not safety. Most "sell by" dates, for instance, are only there to help stores plan inventory. Almost all foods last days - sometimes even weeks after that date. Milk is typically good for about five days, yogurt two weeks, and eggs more than three weeks.
Dates next to the words "use by," or "best if used by" or "best by" indicate peak quality. But, some frozen foods can last more than six months past those dates.
The centers for disease control warns you do need to pay special attention to dates on ready-to-eat, foods like sandwich meat, some soft cheeses and smoked seafood. Over time, they can grow a deadly bacteria called listeria responsible for approximately 500 deaths per year in the U.S.
To minimize that risk, don't buy until you are ready to eat those foods, reheat meats like hot dogs until they are steaming and keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees. Otherwise, unless something says 'expires by' you can probably eat it. Although, you don't need to be a food expert to know - when in doubt - throw it out.
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