Last week I wrote about cleaning out your pantry and refrigerator of any unwanted ingredients to help you clean up your diet. Ingredients are one thing to look for and the date on the label is another. There are several different ways a “date” appears on the label. What do they all mean? Do the products beyond the date become unhealthy or unsafe to consume?
According US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) the dates on products are all about the quality of the product and not necessarily about the safety, except for baby food and baby formula. Plus these dates are not regulated by the federal government. They only tell us how long the product will be at its best.
Best if Used by: It is important to store the foods appropriately for the best quality. Most packages will guide you to “refrigerate after opening” or “store in a cool dry place” etc. The “best of used by” date tells us that the best quality of the food can be expected until that date. It does not mean the product will be unsafe to consume after that date.
Use by: This is also an indication to use the product by the date to get the best quality. If the product is stored properly, you may be able to consume the product without any safety concerns. For baby foods and baby formula don’t even buy the product after the “use by” date.
Sell by: Again this is about how long the store has to get the product off the shelf. It does not mean that the product has to be consumed by that date. For budget-friendly buys products close to their sell by date are often marked down by the store.
No matter what type of date appears on the products in your pantry or refrigerator, use your senses. If there are obvious signs of color change, growth, and foul smell discard the product no matter what the date says. Do not allow your taste buds to guide you. When in doubt throw it out. You can also use the products safely after the dates on the labels, when stored properly, to reduce the food waste. If you buy in bulk store it appropriately and make plans to use it up. More on meal planning next week.