Are you one of those people who pour the milk down the drain on the expiration date?
Expiration dates on food products can protect consumer health, but those dates are really more about quality than safety, and if not properly understood, they can also encourage consumers to discard food that is perfectly safe to eat.
A recent poll of more than 2,000 adults showed that most of us discard food we believe is unsafe to eat, which is a good thing, of course, but it is important that we understand what food expiration dates mean before we dump our food -- and our money -- down the drain or into the garbage. On average, in the U.S. we waste about 14% of the food we buy each year. The average American family of four throws out around $600 worth of groceries every year.
Which five foods are most often feared as being unsafe after the printed date? According to ShelfLifeAdvice.com, we are most wary of milk, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, yogurt, and eggs, and the site offers these helpful explanations:
The “Use-By” Date
The “use-by” or “best if used-by” date indicates the last day that the item is at its best quality as far as taste, texture, appearance, odor, and nutritional value. The decline after that is gradual. The use-by date refers to product that has not yet been opened.
The “Sell By” Date
The “sell by” date is not really a matter of food safety, but a notice to stores that the product should be taken off the shelf because it will begin to decline in quality after that date.
From the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): “Product dating is not generally required by federal regulations. However, if a calendar date is used, it must express both the month and day of the month (and the year, in the case of shelf-stable and frozen products). If a calendar date is shown, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "sell-by" or "use before."
There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States. Although dating of some foods is required by more than 20 states, there are areas of the country where much of the food supply has some type of open date and other areas where almost no food is dated.”
Cross-contamination and unsanitary conditions are a primary cause of food-related illnesses, whether it occurs in the home or in a restaurant, and this is independent of any expiration date. The leading culprits are:
The Yuck Factor: Common Sense Approach to Food Safety
Aside from any expiration date or lack thereof, if a food item is moldy or if it smells and looks spoiled, err on the side of caution. If it makes you say, “yuck,” throw it away.