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What's the Deal with Expiration Dates?

By Sara Butler

It’s OK to admit you’ve taken your milk out of the refrigerator, noticed it was past its expiration date by a few days and drank it anyway -- after smelling it, of course. Many people look at expiration dates as more of a loose guide than a strict cutoff. If you’re wondering just what that expiration date really means for your health, here’s the answer!

What is an Expiration Date?

Here’s something that may come as a shock: Expiration dates aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Instead, they’re claims often made by the food manufacturers themselves. The FDA does not require expiration dates or use by dates on anything except formula for infants. There may be some local and state agencies that require expiration dates, but it’s often something put on products voluntarily by the people producing the food.

The terms really aren’t universal, but according to the USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service, here’s what the terms on your food packaging mean:

  • Use by – This indicates when the product is at it’s the best quality. It really has nothing to do with the safety of the product.
  • Sell by – This is for supermarkets, so they know how long to keep a food on the shelves. It also has nothing to do with food safety.
  • Best by – This is a term for consumers to know when quality or flavor will be at its best. Also indicates nothing about the safety of the product.

Admittedly, it’s all very confusing and causes many people to throw out food that is perfectly fine to eat. If you’re throwing out your dairy, eggs, cereal, bread, and soup because of the dates on the packages, then you may want to reconsider.

Can You Eat Expired Food?

Since there’s no real clear definition of an expiration date, you really need to simply trust your instincts. A good rule of thumb is to follow your senses. If a food feels, looks, tastes, or smells bad, then it’s probably not OK to eat. If you’re unsure about its safety, it’s always a good idea to be cautious and not eat it.

Storage techniques are going to be the best way you can keep food safe and fresh for longer. You should:

  • Keep canned goods for up to six months in a cool, dry place
  • Buy small quantities of dairy and produce to use them up faster and avoid spoilage
  • Plan meals to minimize food waste and buy only what you need
  • Buy frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Stock your pantry with dried goods such as quinoa, lentils, and rice

You need to remember to stay safe but also use your best judgment to decide if a food is safe to eat!

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Fontana, Calif.

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