People throw out a lot of good food because they simply don't understand those dates," says Mary Wenberg, a registered dietitian and food safety specialist. She has worked the meat and poultry hotline for the United States Department of Agriculture for 11 years. She fields questions from the public about what expiration dates mean almost daily"
As food prices continue to soar and conservation is today's "cause celeb" we think it's important to learn more about the dates on printed on food products. You need to educate yourself so you don't throw away perfectly good foods while keeping you and your family healthy and safe. So remember, just because a package has a date on it; it does not mean you have to charge off to the trash can and throw out the food.
As a side note, the U.S. throws out more edible food than any country in the world. While this may be good for the corporate bottom-line, it does not bode well for world conservation or your home pocket book.
A new study revealed that almost half the food in the country (U.S.) goes to waste. FoodNavigator-usa.com reports that "Timothy Jones, an anthropologist at the UA Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, has spent the last 10 years measuring food loss, including the last eight under a grant from the US department of agriculture (USDA)." Mr Jones learned in his study that this food loss came from edible food that is discarded daily as well as waste during the production and retail process.
He goes on to say that his study showed that consumers in the U.S. throw out about 14% of all foods purchased and of that 15% of that food is still within "expiration dates". The study stresses the need for consumers to learn how to refrigerate, freeze and store foods for later use rather than allowing the food to discarding because of spoilage.
With exception of certain poultry, baby food products and formulas most all other food product expiration dates are not required by federal law but are voluntarily provided by food manufacturers. This does vary from state to state and many states legislate sell-by dates for perishable foods. According to several sources including the USDA there are 20 states that require some mandatory labeling for dairy products. So far we know that Arizona, California, Ohio, and New York have some labeling laws. (Read about California's milk labeling law)
You can certainly eat most foods beyond any "convenience date". If the date is explicitly an "expiration date" then proceed with caution. For an example, a steak a few days past a sell by date is probably not going to hurt you. A box of crackers 2 months past a best by or use by date are typically just fine. Smell the food, does it smell OK? If it smells spoiled or rancid, toss it out.
There is one area I don't mess around and that is with high acid canned goods. If I'm not sure, I throw it out. See the chart to the right showing "how long to keep it". Again this is a guideline, many foods may be fine beyond the guidelines.
This is a case where common sense must prevail. Here are some general guidelines: