What Do Food Expiration Dates Really Mean?

woman scrutinizing the expiry date of a food containerlightpoet / Shutterstock

The expiration dates of foods appear on almost all foods. It is likely that you ate food after the expiration date indicated and nothing is noticed. When something expires, should you throw it away right away?

Understand the expiration date of foods

Many foods contain a sell date, which tells the store when to remove that item from the market and stop selling it. This does not mean that the food is out of date and unfit for consumption. In fact, according to the FDA, confusion about food dates and the actual meaning of labeling accounts for about one-fifth of consumers' food waste.

Many of these types of labels are on food products. Bakery items often have a "best used" date, which tells you how long your baked goods and bread will still be fresh.

A consumption deadline may seem like a locked expiration date, but even this title does not mean that food will instantly go bad. Just like the "best if used on" bread, "use by" means that it is the date at which the product can begin to lose in quality and freshness.

In fact, the very wording "best if used by", "used by", etc., is not even officially prescribed, although the FDA encourages companies to use "best if used by" on their packaging.

Speaking of the FDA, according to them the biggest consideration is proper storage – no matter if the expiry date of your pot of milk is three days ago if the milk still smells fresh and has been refrigerated properly.

When to get rid of food

Most food products last from a few days to a few weeks after their date of sale. Meat, poultry and fish should be used or frozen a few days after this date (be sure to cook immediately after defrosting). The eggs go well until one month after their date of sale. The milk should be used in the following week. Canned products and long-life foods, such as cereals and cereals, can be safely consumed well beyond the date on the container, provided they have been properly stored.

That said, if something smells bad, is discolored or contains mold, its expiry date is definitely reached. At this point, it is safer to throw it than to test it.

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