Do expiration dates really matter?
An expiration date, or expiry date, is a previously determined date after which something should no longer be used, either by operation of law or by exceeding the anticipated shelf life for perishable goods.
However, some food items have a “best before” dates. Best before dates have to do with food quality – freshness, texture, flavor and nutritional value – not safety. They are not expiry dates. Yogurt with a best before date of today is (supposedly) still good and safe to eat for seven to 10 days whether open or unopened.
It seems there are two types of people in the world – those who look upon the dates as mere suggestions to be ignored and those who adhere strictly to those dates and toss anything that reaches the suggested date.
I belong in the latter group. I pay close attention to them in the store and mentally calculate if the product can be completely used before that date. It I can’t find a date on the package, back on the shelf it goes.
I adhere strictly to any date placed on the products I buy. If the item has a date of Dec. 20, 2019 on it, I toss it on Dec. 20, 2019. I care not if it looks fine and smells fine. I will not roll the dice and taste it. With all the preservatives being used, looks and smells can be deceiving, which is why those dates stamped on the packaging can help prevent illness.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are actually four dates that manufacturers use:
• Sell-by date: How long the store can display the product
• Use-by date: The last date that the product is at peak quality
• Best if used by date: The best date for flavor and quality
• Closed by date or coded dates: The numbers and letters used by the manufacturer to indicate the day and time the product was packed
None of these are expiration dates, nor do they indicate whether food is safe to eat or not. In fact, the FDA allows manufacturers to sell almost any food past these dates, with baby formula being the exception. What’s more, manufacturers aren’t required to put any of these dates on their food. The decision is up to them.
Bringing this inquiry to light was my boyfriend’s insistence that unopened containers of jellied cranberry sauce were still good, even though they were two years passed the date (2017 some time). I didn’t look to see if the date was expiry or best before. As you just read, it doesn’t matter to me. He opened one and said it looked and smelled fine. On the plate it went.
His son is very much on my side of the strict date adherence debate. He joined me in a refusal to eat it. Everyone else knew and ate it anyway. As far as I know, they suffered no ill side effects.
My stance against eating outdated items remains unchanged.
Standard reporter Lisa Hobbs can be reached at 473-2191.