A huge amount of food gets wasted each year because they are thrown away even though they’re still safe to consume. This happens due to misunderstandings amongst consumers regarding the labels on the foods. These labels may contain an expiration date or use some other wordings to indicate the shelf-life of the foods.
How long food is good after its expiration date depends on the kind of food—whether it is a highly perishable item, such as milk, or something that can be stored for long, such as packed, dry spices.
The dates you see on food labels may not always indicate how long the food takes to decay or spoil. Instead, the dates tell you how long you can store them or eat them in their best state and texture. You may be able to consume certain food products even after they have crossed these dates.
5 different terms that indicate the expiration dates of foods
Federal law does not require food quality dates to be mentioned on all foods, except on infant formula.
You may be confused about the various dates mentioned on the label. Knowing their meanings may help you know how long can you store them or eat them.
- “Sell-by” date
- You will find sell-by dates mentioned on the labels of most refrigerated products. These dates are for informing stores when to remove certain products from the shelves.
- You can eat food even after the sell-by date. For example, dairy products can be consumed for at least a week after their sell-by date.
- Examples of food that have sell-by dates include:
- Meat products
- Pre-prepared foods
- Salad mixes
- “Best if used by” date
- “Best if used by” date indicates the timeline for food when it has the best flavor and quality. Beyond this, your food may not get spoiled but it may not taste as good as it was before the date.
- You can consume such foods even months after the date has passed. However, observe the packaging well—see if it has dents or bulgings and a different smell or color. In such cases, throw the packet or box away.
- You may find “best if used by” dates on the labels of:
- Canned goods
- “Use-by” date
- This is the last date that guarantees the best quality of a product. It does not indicate the safety of the product except when used on infant formula.
- Your food may not be the best but can be good enough to consume past the use-by date.
- Expiration date
- Expiration dates can be mentioned as “expires on” or “do not use after” on the labels. The products may not be effective or have the same texture after this date.
- You can find the date on the labels of:
- Quality assurance date
- This term is mentioned on products with a long shelf life. You may consume the food after the quality assurance date.
- Food products with quality assurance dates include:
- Boxed macaroni and cheese
- Peanut butter
- Bakery items
9 ways to make your food stay fresh longer and avoid wastage
Good storage practices can help your food stay fresh for a long time. However, this depends on the type of food.
Here are some common timelines and tips to store popular food items to keep them fresher for longer:
- Milk can be stored for seven days in your fridge. Store it in the back of your fridge where the temperature is coldest.
- Eggs can stay good for three to five weeks. Like milk, you should store eggs in the back of your fridge.
- Dry rice or pasta is good for one to two years in your pantry. The cooked ones are good for three to four days in your fridge.
- Cooked meat and poultry are good for three to four days when stored in your fridge.
- Ground meat and poultry can stay good for a maximum of two days in your fridge. If you want to use them after a few more days, freezing them will increase their shelf-life.
- Before opening, lunch meat stays good for two weeks and three to five days after it is opened.
- Store leftovers quickly in the fridge to avoid contamination. If food sits out at room temperature for longer than two hours, it is unsafe for eating, so discard it.
- If you do not plan to use the prepared food right away, freeze it.
- You can freeze milk, bread, and cheese to extend their shelf-life. Beat the eggs first and store them in a sealed container in the fridge.
You can use the Foodkeeper app prepared by the United States Department of Agriculture to know how long you can store various foods in the fridge.
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US Department of Agriculture. Before You Toss Food, Wait. Check It Out! https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/06/27/you-toss-food-wait-check-it-out#
US Food and Drug Administration. How to Cut Food Waste and Maintain Food Safety. https://www.fda.gov/media/101389/download
Ceasrine L. How to Tell Whether Expired Food Is Safe to Eat. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/food-safety/how-to-tell-whether-expired-food-is-safe-to-eat-a1083080425/
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