Most states require food manufacturers to mark perishable foods with a date so customers can gauge product freshness, but since there are no federal regulations requiring products to be dated, there isn’t a uniform system. In addition, stores are not legally required to remove food once the expiration date has passed. This is strictly “advisory” in nature and it’s up to each individual stores discretion to do so.
That being said, it is up to you, the consumer to learn what expiration dates really mean and how long you can consume your food after the dates have passed.
Here is a guide to the most common terms and what they really mean…
“Sell-by” dates let stores know how long products can remain on the shelves. They also are used as guides for rotating stock. The sell-by date takes into consideration the length of time a product typically sits on the shelf at home after purchase. Perishable foods remain good for a period of time after the sell-by dates, assuming they have been stored properly.
General guidelines for shelf life beyond sell-by dates:
- Eggs usually are good for three to five weeks past the sell-by date.
- Milk typically is good for up to seven days past the sell-by date.
- Fresh chicken and turkey should be cooked or frozen within two days after the date.
- Fresh beef, pork and lamb should be cooked or frozen within three to five days after the date.
- Ground meats should be cooked or frozen within two days of the date.
- Unopened processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs and luncheon meats, should be used within two weeks after the sell-by date.
- Unopened canned meats, such as tuna and sardines, will keep for about two years beyond the sell-by date.
Caution: Shelf life depends upon handling and storage conditions. Fresh perishable foods should be kept at 38°F to 40°F for maximum safety and quality.
“Best if Used By” – Means the flavor or quality is best by this date, but the product is still edible thereafter.
“Used By” – This is the last day that the manufacturer vouches for the product’s quality.
Ultimately, most labels should be used more as a guideline and common sense is the most important way to determine if something is safe to eat. Smell it to decide if it is fresh. If you are in doubt, don’t eat it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- What Food ‘Sell-By’ Dates Really Mean
- The Hidden Dangers of Processed Meats
- The Most Frequent Causes of Food Poisoning,
and Tips to Help Prevent it
- Healthy Food Choices That Won’t Break the Bank
- New Food Law Requires Stores to Tell you Where Food Comes From
- Make Sure Your Eggs are From Chickens Not Cooped Up in Cages