Aside from confusing the spit out of you, what the heck is with the, best use-by, sell-by, and use-by dates on food from the grocery store?
They say when you get older the first thing that goes is your memory. I’m not sure who “they” are, but sometimes I forget what day it is. I’m no different than you, we’re both pretty busy; actually you’re probably busier than me.
The other day I went to Publix and for some strange reason, I was dying for that fake crabmeat salad. Pretty strange, since I hate seafood. Anyway, I looked at the date, saw the sell-by date was the next day, so I tossed it in my cart.
When I got home, my honey looked at it and asked me what today was. I clearly and proudly said, “It’s the 23rd, why”? He said, “The sell-by date is the 24th and today’s the 25th”.
I was like, NO WAY. I honestly didn’t believe him. I seriously went and grabbed my phone and low and behold it was the 25th! Now, I’m not gonna blame this Homer Simpson moment on age, because I don’t care what anyone says, I’m not that old, but holy smokes am I that busy I got my days messed up?
Technically, I could have eaten it, but my desire to eat that fake crab suddenly went down the toilet. My craving was now gone, so I tossed the tub in the trash and ate a bowl of corn pops instead. Sure, I could have just returned it to Publix, but I’m too lazy to get back in my car and drive 4 miles to the store only to have the customer service person look at me like I’m crazy.
Sure, I know I’m crazy, but I don’t need a 17-year-old pimpled faced kid telling me that.
Now, I’m not telling you you’re going to need to toss out all of your food if you still have it in the refrigerator after the use-by date, that’s totally your choice; however, I do because I’m not going to chance to get a wicked case of food poisoning.
No one wants to toss money down the toilet
Believe me, I understand where you’re coming from. You or your spouse work darn hard for your money and you don’t want to feel as though you’re just flushing it away, sending it to the Ty-D-Bol man for his early retirement. I can’t blame you one bit.
As consumers, we tend to get paralyzed with fear by the dates printed on our food and are caught between that internal struggle….”do I toss it out or just chance it and pray no one gets sick”.
Believe me, I get it.
There was a time in my life when I was a stay-at-home mom. The only money coming in at that time was $21,000 a year for 4 people. Unfortunately, we earned $1.50 too much a month to be eligible for food stamps. Hence, I understand clinging on to all the food you buy, even if it’s past the use-by dates. I may have held onto the food a tad longer than I should have, resulting in jeopardizing the health of my family.
I just want to say, if you’ve done this in the past it’s really okay. You’re human and the only one expecting perfection is you.
I’m here to tell you it’s okay if you’re not perfect. Heck who really knows what perfection is, and even if you were perfect, you’d probably be a robot – although they too stumble along life’s journey.
The point I’m trying to make is this. You stumbled to my blog because you were looking for some sort of advice on how to keep the food you feed your family safe. You weren’t looking for someone to shame you into feeling bad, so before we move on will you promise me something?
Promise me you’ll stop feeling bad for having an accidental sip up (or a few more) if you use an expired product, okay?
If you scour through the internet you’ll find many people are all searching for the same thing, and that’s what do these darn dates mean? If everyone’s looking for the answer, then there has to be some sort of miscommunication on the part of the food manufacturers. Many of us have struggled for years to understand the manufacturer’s lingo when it comes to food dating.
I seriously believe they’re playing head-games with the consumers by tricking us by not using real lingo that the average person understands.
So, because you’re my friend and I love ya and only want the best for you and your family I’m gonna break this down as clearly as I can.
For the million-dollar question, is food safe to eat after the best used-by date?
According to the USDA, as long as the food has been properly stored, it will be okay to consume, but here’s the thing. Not everyone’s refrigerator is kept at the ideal temperature, and not everyone stores items properly or in the same fashion.
Think about this. When was the last time your kid went to the refrigerator, snagged a slice or two of cold cuts you bought at your grocer’s deli counter, and left the package basically open and exposed?
Depending on the type of meat it was, but for this scenario, we’re going to use bologna. If bologna has a shelf life of a week after you brought it home, and your kid left the package open, that would compromise the integrity of the product; therefore it’s going to go bad before the week is up.
Well, according to the USDA, it should be fine after the best use-by dates, but since it’s probably now hard and crusty around the edges, I’d toss it, unless you like bologna chips.
This is where you need to use your critical thinking skills along with your gut instinct. Just a heads up; your gut is 99.9% always right. Times like this, you may want to tap into its amazing power.
Another line of thinking is better to be safe than sorry. It’s a clique, that’s why I don’t like using that but always listen to your gut instinct. It’s rarely ever wrong!
The Best used-by date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. It just means once the date passes the peak of its flavor or freshness will start to dissipate.
Don’t worry, your grapefruit juice doesn’t contain a microscopic calendar that says, “Oh my, why lookie here, it’s January 4th, and it’s time to start tasting funky”. Now, remember, these dates are only estimated as we don’t even know the storage conditions, or when our food was even packaged before it hit our grocers shelves.
For all we know, it could have gone from hot-to-cold, and back to hot again. The extreme temperature fluctuations do cause food flavors and nutritional components to vary.
You should really follow those guidelines for perishables, but canned goods are a totally different subject. I do believe some canned products can last until the next ice-age, but it’s probably gonna taste funky, and not funky in a good way, like an Avacado.
The sell-by date is designated for the grocery store only. They should actually state on the label “for grocers use only”. It basically tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
Now, if the sell-by date printed on the packaging was last year, then I most certainly would ask you to refrain from purchasing it. Heck, if the practice of the store was too keep food on the shelves for that long (cough..cough..Winn Dixie – who sold me 5-year old applesauce), then I would never shop there again.
If you are budget conscious and you’re buying the meat after the sell-by date, please take a good look at the meat.
Heck, we all love a bargain when it comes to buying a “T-bone”. Just make sure it hasn’t lost any of its colors and by all means smell it. Who cares if the guy fondling a pack of tripe is looking at you funny when you’re sniffing the meat. He’s eating tripe and shouldn’t judge anyone!
If you do buy the meat after the sell-by date please eat it that night or freeze it immediately.
The Use-by date goes hand-in-hand with the Best used-by date. Use-by is the last date recommended to consume the product while at peak quality. The only time the use-by date should be considered a safety date is when we’re talking about perishable foods and infant formula.
Never use the following products after the use-by or expiration date:
- Baby formula
- Meal replacements
Each of these items has nutritional components that will be compromised and risking one’s health if used after the use-by and/or expiration dates.
Foods where the use-by date matter the most
The following foods can become unsafe if eaten after the use-by date:
- Packaged deli meats
- Fresh meat
- Ground beef
Yeast is another story. Although it’s okay if you use it after the use-by date, You will want to use it before then. If your yeast is past the use-by date and once added to water it begins to bubble, you’re in good shape, but if it just lies there stagnant, you’ll be baking saltines and not a beautiful loaf of bread because the yeast is dead.
Yogurt & milk
With that said, if we’re talking about perishables, like yogurt and milk, you can go 5-days to a week past the use-by date if you really want to push it. Personally, I would advise against it, but according to the USDA, it’s okay.
You can get away with the sell-by date on eggs. Typically the sell-by date on the carton is the last day the store can sell the eggs, but that date can’t be more than 30 days from the date the eggs were packaged. A good rule of thumb is, if you didn’t take them out of the carton, you can keep them for 3 to 5 weeks after the date.
If you did take them out of the carton and put them in the egg trays, shame on you. Don’t do that anymore. Sure, the egg cups are cute, but the door of the refrigerator is the warmest part.
If you don’t have a chance to eat the food before the use-by date, please toss it out after 1 week. Anything after that may have you praying over the toilet bowl.
The freeze-by date indicates the date when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. It’s not saying if you got tied up and you froze the food one or two days after the freeze-by date your foods gonna taste like dog food when you cook it.
There are guidelines when it comes to freezing food. You should never keep food frozen for longer than the USDA recommends.
Discard after 7 to 10 days
There may be times you’ll notice the packaging on your food will say to discard after a certain amount of days. 9 out of 10 times, you will see this with juice products only.
Since most real fruit juice is acidic, it’s a bit more difficult for bacteria to grow in it, but that’s not to say it won’t. Most real fruit juices will start to smell sour and will grow mold if it’s past the expiration date.
Once you open real fruit juice, you must refrigerate it promptly, or it can ferment and spoil very quickly. Be sure to drink it within 7 to 10 days.
If you ever see floating particles in your fruit juice, don’t drink it.
There is a difference between real fruit juice and juice drinks. Most juice drinks have enough preservatives in there, that they do not need to be refrigerated after opening.
Are the dates on my food set in stone?
Although the dates listed on your food are estimates provided by the food manufacturers and the USDA, they are only estimates. Please make sure to read the packaging labels regarding the best used-by, sell-by, use-by dates. By doing this it will provide you with the essential information on how long the item is safe to consume after opening.
It’s also important to follow the same guidelines when it comes to your pet’s food. After all, they are a part of your family and their health should be considered equally as important.
Food for thought. If the date on a package is shorter than the dates listed on the food storage charts and recommended by the USDA, to be safe, always rely on the dates on the package instead.
I’d really love to know what your thoughts are with regarding the best use-by, sell-by, use-by, and freeze-by dates. Let’s start a conversation below.
Until we meet again,