November 08, 2018

STOP WASTING FOOD: Use common sense and stop caring about what you THINK is an 'expiration' date

The only foods that are required by federal law to have expiration dates are baby food, infant formula, and over-the-counter medications.

Many canned and boxed products are safe to eat long after the date on the container, and the shelf life of refrigerated and frozen foods can be extended if they are handled properly.

Once a perishable item is frozen, it doesn’t matter if the date expires foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely, though the quality slowly deteriorates over time. Here are some code dates you may see on food packages:

“Expiration Date” (Examples: “Expires 11/15/11” or “Do not use after 11/15/11”)

Look for it on: Baby food and formula, medicines,vitamins, yeast, baking powder.
What it means: Do not use infant formula, baby food, vitamins, or medicines after the expiration date. Yeast and baking powder work less well after expiration but are safe to eat.

“Pack Date” (Examples: “Packed on 03/01/2012” or “22:5306412” or “KL064”)

Look for it on: Canned food, crackers, cookies, spices.
What it means: This is the date the food was packaged. A code is often used that cannot be understood by the general public, often numbering days sequentially such that January 1 is day 001 and December 31 is day 365 (366 in leap years). Usually this food is of good quality and safe to eat for a long time past the date.

“Sell By” Date (Example: “Sell by January 1, 2012”. Also called “Pull Date”)

Look for it on: Refrigerated foods such as milk,yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, lunch meat,packaged salad mixes.
What it means: The store must sell these foods before the code date listed and often donates thesefoods when they are close to date. If the food has been handled properly it is still safe to eat andthe quality is good.

“Use By” or Quality Date (Examples: “Best if used by 1/1/12” or “Use Before 1/1/12”)

Look for it on: Crackers, cookies, cold cereals, and other dry, shelf stable food.
What it means:  This date is the manufacturer’s recommendation for how long the food will be at peak quality. After the quality date, the food is still safe to eat but slowly begins to lose nutrients and the quality begins to lessen.

Date Labeling and Impact on Food Waste

Confusion over the meaning of dates applied to food products can result in consumers discarding wholesome food. In an effort to reduce food waste, it is important that consumers understand that the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety. Food products are safe to consume past the date on the label, and regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food product prior to its consumption.

More Info: USDA, Harvesters

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