Nearly every food item in your pantry or refrigerator has some sort of expiration date. Rest assured those dates mean something. But do they mean food should be thrown away once the date printed on the package passes? Not necessarily, according to experts. Expiration dates are more about quality than spoilage.
As a company specializing in senior concierge services, we come across quite a bit of ‘expired’ food when helping clients complete their shopping lists or clean out their kitchens. We have come to learn a thing or two about expiration dates. For example, different dates mean different things. According to Consumer Reports, there are three primary expiration dates manufacturers use:
- Sell by – The sell by date is the cutoff date used by manufacturers to tell retailers when to pull food products off their shelves. It is a quality issue. Selling a food product after this date will reduce the length of time it maintains maximum quality for the consumer.
- Best by – The best by date is a date typically used to determine the best time to consume frozen and canned foods. Some frozen foods experience a diminished level of quality after that date, even if continuously frozen until use.
- Use by – The use by date is similar to the best by date except that it applies to a wider range of products. Consumer Reports uses the example of a jar of salsa that might not taste as tangy and flavorful after the use by date.
In all three cases, the expiration date printed on food packaging refers to the quality of the food product more than anything else. The key for consumers who don’t necessarily care about maximum quality is to look for signs of spoilage.
Contamination Is a Safety Issue
The first thing we commonly think of when food has reached its expiration date is whether that food product is safe. Take milk, for example. Grabbing a carton from the refrigerator and noticing it has reached its expiration date immediately plants a seed in the mind that the milk could be sour. But is that the case just because it is past its expiration date by one day? Probably not.
According to WebMD, a typical gallon of milk is still good for about a week after its expiration date – provided it stays refrigerated for that time. Eggs will also stay safe for up to five weeks after bringing them home.
Medical experts say the real concern in food safety is contamination rather than break down. In other words, food products begin to break down over time to exhibit poor quality in terms of taste, color, etc. But that lower quality is not a safety issue in most cases. On the other hand, food that becomes contaminated is another thing.
Dairy products that are not kept properly refrigerated are a good example. If temperatures rise too high for too long, bacteria in a dairy product can begin multiplying to the point of contaminating the product. That’s a safety issue. But even so, soured milk can be used for other things and still be
It is true that food expiration dates mean something. They do not necessarily mean what the average consumer thinks they mean. Rather than automatically throwing out food that is past its expiration date, take a few minutes to try and determine whether it is genuinely spoiled. If not, you can still use expired food safely.
One final note: My Divine Concierge can help you clean out your pantry and refrigerator. If you need help, please do not hesitate to contact us and ask about our senior concierge services.