5 Things You Should Know about Food Expiration Dates

Sometimes My Divine Concierge is called on to help people clean and organize chaotic homes. That may include going through kitchen cupboards and refrigerators to discard unusable food. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s this: food expiration dates are ambiguous.

There are different kinds of dates you might find on both perishable and non-perishable foods. All those dates don’t necessarily refer to the same thing. What’s more, not every food item in your kitchen will have a date on it. What’s the deal with that?

Below are five things you should know about food expiration dates. As you read each one, keep in mind that My Divine Concierge is here to help should you need assistance cleaning out and organizing your home. From a simple decluttering to a full-on hoarding resolution, we are experts in the field.

1. Food Dating Is Mostly Voluntary

Did you know that food dating is not mandatory? It’s true. As explained by WebMD, only infant formula and some baby foods are required by law to be labeled with expiration dates. That means manufacturers and processors who mark their products with expiration dates are doing so voluntarily.

It is probably a good thing that such voluntary efforts are so pervasive. But think of this: if expiration dates are mostly voluntary, how much does it matter whether said dates are accurate? The voluntary nature of food dating is one of the things that makes it so ambiguous.

2. ‘Sell By’ Dates Are for the Store

There are a number of different ways to date food. One of them is with a ‘sell by’ date. Believe it or not, this date is more for the grocery store than the customer. A ‘sell by’ date tells store management when to pull product off the shelves. If not sold by that particular date, the store runs the risk of selling something that isn’t as fresh or tasty as it should be.

3. ‘Best By’ Dates Are about Quality

Another system for dating food is the ‘best by’ date. A lot of people confuse this with expiration. They assume that if a product is not consumed by the date listed on the package it is either spoiled or is close to spoiling. Such assumptions are not accurate. The ‘best by’ date relates only to quality.

4. ‘Use By’ Refers to Peak Quality

The ‘use by’ date is another reference to quality rather than safety. Manufacturers that choose to date food this way are attempting to indicate to customers when a product will reach peak quality. After that date, there is no guarantee a product will be as good as consumers expect it to be.

5. Most Expired Food Is Still Edible

With the exception of expired dairy that is showing signs of spoilage, most expired food is still edible within a short time after reaching the date on the package. For example, do not assume that a bottle of ketchup that expired last week needs to be tossed in the trash. As long as there are no visible signs of mold or fermentation, it is probably still perfectly good.

Web MD says that milk products are usually good for up to a week following the ‘sell by’ date. Eggs are okay for 3 to 5 weeks. Most meats are good for a few days past expiration as long as they are frozen or cooked. Most canned goods are still usable up to 18 months after ‘best by’ date if they are kept in cool, dry locations.

As always, your eyes and nose are the best indicator of spoiled food. Trust what you see and smell. If something about a food product doesn’t seem quite right, don’t take any chances – regardless of the date on the package.

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