Louisiana, Is This Food Expired? Your Guide to Date Labels
In a typical Louisiana relationship there are two types of people. There is one who lives by the expiration date and then there is the other who knows no fear and is prepared to embrace ptomaine and botulism by eating items that may have last been fresh when Bill Clinton was President.
In these tough economic times I can certainly understand the desire to not throw away "perfectly good food". But I can also attest to the fact that getting treatment at an urgent care for a major case of gastric distress can make the cash register ring as well.
The problem with food labeling is this. It's not very clear and not very concise. There are "use by dates", "best by dates", "expiration dates", and "sell by dates" that most of us simply do not understand the actual meaning. One of the reasons all of these "dates" are so confusing is their use is not regulated. Each company can pick and choose what date, if any, they want to put on their packaging and it's up to us to crack the code.
What Does "Best By" or "Best If Used By" Date Really Mean?
This is a date a manufacturer or producer puts on their product so consumers know when the product will be at its best. It will have the best flavor, the best texture, the best overall product experience will occur if a consumer uses the product by "this date". The food is still safe and consumable past this date but it might not be at "it's best".
What Does "Use By" or "Expiration Date" Really Mean?
These dates are again a tip to the consumer on when the product will be past its peak quality. It's very similar to the "best by" and "best if used by" dates but the the date listed is last date when a consumer can expect the product to be at its best. The product is still safe to eat and consume but the consumer experience might be less than enjoyable.
What Does "Packing/Manufacture Date" Really Mean?
This may be the most straightforward of all the dates placed on labels. It truly is when the product was produced or packed. The date has absolutely nothing to do with food safety or food quality. It's merely a marker in the production process so manufactures can track product distribution.
What does "Sell By Date" Really Mean?
This is a date that is placed on a product by the retailer. This gives a retailer an idea of how long a product has been on the shelf. It has nothing to do with the safety of the product as food is still safe to eat well beyond the "sell by date".
How Do You Know When Food Has Gone Bad?
Manufactures don't put such a date on their products because they don't want you thinking their stuff will ever go bad. So, the rule of thumb in answering this question is to simply use common sense. If it doesn't look right or smell right then you probably shouldn't taste it to see if it tastes alright.
How Far Past These Dates Can Some Foods Still Be Consumed?
Naturally, it depends on the food in question but in very general terms items such as cereal, pasta, dried beans, and baking mixes are good for use up to one year beyond the date listed on the package. The same can be said for frozen foods and most canned goods too.
Dairy items like butter, cheese, and eggs can be considered safe to consume up to 30 days beyond the package date. While milk, yogurt, and cream cheese, have seven day shelf life post packaging date.
Again, common sense is your best guide for when to use and when to toss.
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