Is It Good? A Look At Food Expiration Dates
The holidays are here. A time of making way too much food, finding cans of cranberry sauce in the back of the pantry, and putting mountains of turkey in the fridge. All of this food storage stuff has me thinking. How many times have you opened a bag of salad and smelled it or looked at a jar of jelly and said, "I wonder if this is still good?"
We have all seen the labels on perishable food, "sell by," "use by," or "best by," in small fine print. But what exactly do they mean? If it is a day after, do you toss it or should you hang on to it? How does this product know that it's time is up?!
All of these questions motivated me to search for answers.! Let's take a look at each term so you know what they really mean.
EXPIRATION or USE BY date: This is the most important term. It is the BIGGY! "Use by" and Exp. or Expiration are interchangeable terms and they mean just that. The product is only good until this date. If you haven't used it by the said date, toss it.
"SELL BY" or "PULL BY" date: This term is designed for retailers not consumers. The term is a signal for them to pull the product, but generally, there is still time left to consume it. "Sell by" on milk for example, generally means milk will be good for at least one week after the date.
"BEST BY": The key word here is "best." The food should remain good after said date, but beyond it, something in the product like flavor or consistency will deteriorate. You should use your best judgment – or just go with your gut! No pun intended!
There is also a term called "GUARANTEED FRESH," that you might find on baked goods. If your product wears one of these, yet fails to be fresh, you're advised to return it back to the store, especially, if you find it stale or growing mold. YUCK!
It is important to note that the FDA www.fda.gov requires infant formula and poultry packaged at the farm to display an expiration date or "use by" label. In addition, beyond all of this terminology, food safety is also determined by how the product is handled; by you, grocers, and packers as well. It is absolutely mind boggling to think about how many people have come into contact with your food before it gets to your home or on your table! Perishable products must be kept at 34 degrees at the store. On your end, 40 degrees or lower keeps food fresh. Anything higher shortens the shelf life.
With all of this new knowledge I know that you will rest at ease the next time you grab that package of chicken! I would take this list to the market with you the next few times that you go so that you can really absorb the information!
Regardless of the above terms my motto is, "When in doubt, throw it out!"