Should You Trust Those Food Expiration Dates? Here's What the Experts Say

Should You Trust Those Food Expiration Dates? Here's What the Experts Say

Food waste is a global problem. Not only does it contribute to the growing problem of hunger around the world, it also accounts for nearly 60 percent of greenhouse landfill gas emissions. gave Biden-Harris administration Standing in line a New plan To reduce food waste. It is up to you to determine whether or not to eat. in fact Whether or not it is spoiled before it is thrown away.

If you know what you're dealing with. Expired foodyou can always use A countertop composter To keep organic waste out of the dump. Before you decide to toss it, brush up on your ability to know when food is and isn't finished so you don't get rid of perfectly good consumables.

Americans produce. 325 pounds of food waste per person, per year and much of it is discarded as it is considered to have expired and is no longer usable. Some of this can be attributed to food scraps. Concerned? Much of this food waste can be attributed to throwing away food that is still safe to use, but has expired.

Throwing away potentially non-perishable food is not only a food waste problem, but a financial waste problem. “One statistic I've seen is that if a consumer is really diligent against expiration dates, they can save about $1,300 per year,” says KCEO Christopher Greco. ” According to the storea software platform for independent grocers I spoke with about food expiration dates.

What are the expiration dates?

Best by date on marinara jars Best by date on marinara jars

Once the packaging seal is broken, the best-by and expiration dates no longer apply.


“Expiration dates are both a quality and safety issue,” Greco says. On the one hand, producers and manufacturers want you to experience their products in the best possible condition for taste and texture, and on the other hand, they want to minimize the risk of any potential foodborne illnesses.

Read more: How to Store and Preserve Fresh Herbs

Some products, eg Dairy products, relatively short shelf lives, and expiration dates that quickly approach when you bring them home from the store. Others, such as canned and preserved products, can last a while, perhaps years, on store shelves or in your pantry or refrigerator.

There is a ton of nuance surrounding food expiration

Best by date on mustard Best by date on mustard

If the best-by date is several years ago, you'd be wise to send it packing.

Alina Bradford/CNET

In terms of both quality and safety, expiration dates are of great importance, especially for products that are less shelf-stable in nature.

Greco walks us through a variety of scenarios with a common household product with a near-future expiration date, milk, where both storage and transportation variables can affect its condition, even the expiration date on the package. Even after the due date is printed. “If that milk was dropped off at the grocery store by a distributor, and it sat in the back of the fridge for 20 or 30 minutes, you might have a different profile,” he says. “If you buy that milk in South Florida, where it's 100 degrees, and you drive 30 minutes home, that's going to affect the quality as well.”

Best by, use by, sell by and freeze by dates

Expiry dates on cans. Expiry dates on cans.

You'll usually find the expiration dates on the bottom of the can.


Expiration dates may also be printed with different languages, which create different concerns and may speak more to quality issues than safety. According to USDA Food Safety and Inspection ServiceThe meanings behind the various labels are:

  • Oh “Best if used by/before” date It tells when a product will be of the best taste or quality. This is not a purchase or security date.
  • Oh “by selling” The date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. This is not a security date.
  • Oh “through use” The date is the last date that the product is recommended for use while still being of high quality. This is not a safety date (except when used on infant formula).
  • Oh “Frozen Through” The date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain the best quality. This is not a purchase or security date.

Various groceries on the table Various groceries on the table

Many factors contribute to how long food is safe to eat, including storage, packaging and environment.

David Watsky/CNET

These phrases can be helpful guidelines for consumers, but it's important to note that, except for infant formula, expiration dates are not required by federal law. As indicated above, none of these refer to the issue of safety where consumption is concerned. In short, you have to rely on your senses anyway, including common sense, to determine if a food is safe to consume.

Use of common sense

Bottles of olive oil on a supermarket shelf. Bottles of olive oil on a supermarket shelf.

Some foods take longer to expire than you think, but others go faster. OIive oil, for example, does not stay fresh for more than a few months after opening.

In Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/Photos via Getty Images

“I think a lot of consumers have a hard and fast rule when it comes to expiration dates, thinking if it's the 28th or 29th, and something's on the 27th,” Greco says. It's expired, so they must throw it away,” Greco says, but that's not always, or even usually, the case. “You should at least smell it, and maybe taste it, and it can still be good,” he says.

On the other hand, it's an important habit to get into anyway, because you may suspect something has changed before the expiration date. Given a variety of transportation and storage scenarios, the expiration date may be meaningless, and as noted above, is not reflective of any federal regulations.

Even the USDA recommends this practice: “The quality of products with a perishable date may be impaired; however, such products may still be safe if handled properly. Consumers should determine To do this, the quality of the product should be evaluated before use to see if the product shows signs of deterioration.” You can handle food properly by putting it away as soon as you get home, knowing where it is. Your refrigerator has the coldest zones.Keep different types of food separate, use proper storage containers, and don't overfill them to begin with.

Chicken sell by date Chicken sell by date

I bought this chicken on March 11, 2024 but the sell by date was not for another week.

David Watsky/CNET

Read more: Chicken labels are confusing. Here's what they do (and don't) mean.

Some items are very obviously spoiled, when they show signs of rotting or rotting, or when they lose their odor. (Even if it shows some mold, you might No need to throw away your cheese.) is a natural that objects The protector Quality, such as cheese, pickled products or those with a high vinegar content, or other preserved products such as jam, are more likely to mellow in flavor before becoming unpleasant or unsafe for you. .

Personal shopping helps with expiration dates and food waste.

Woman holding beef product at grocery store Woman holding beef product at grocery store

Expired meat and seafood cause more problems than most other groceries.

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Greco notes that our shopping habits also likely play a role in throwing away non-perishable food. “Part of food waste is the lack of frequency of shopping at the store,” he says. When buying in bulk To save money on certain products, planning a menu or trying to stock up for weeks or months at a time instead of a few days can result in having more food on hand than is actually needed. Difficult to use before starting to replace regardless of expiration date.

If you're someone who still feels compelled to toss out items based on expiration dates out of caution, frequent visits to your local grocery store will help you stock up on groceries in your fridge. And keeping money in your account can help.

At the end of the day, use your own judgment when it comes to foods that have passed their expiration dates. Use your senses, including common sense, to guide you in determining when food is safe to eat or to go through its primer.

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