We all head to the grocery store and want to purchase the freshest products we can afford. I know that when grabbing milk, I go through all of the gallons to see if I can find one that has the latest date on it. If I am lucky, I will find one that is a day after all of the others. Score!
Recently, as I looked at the various items throughout my kitchen, I started to realize that they were all labeled differently — sell by, freeze by, use by. Which got me thinking, what the heck did it all mean? How can you tell if food is spoiled? Do food expiration dates matter?
Let’s go to The Chalkboard.
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Is Food Waste A Problem?
Americans waste 7lbs of food each week per person. That’s a tremendous amount of food. The implications are much more significant than just throwing out food. That’s wasting the resources it took to make that food. That’s a landfill that is filling (94% of food ends up in a landfill). That is money that you have spent wasted.
Reducing food waste could save resources and money. It is estimated that 30-40 percent of the food supply goes to waste. For the average U.S. household, approximately $2,200 of food is tossed annually – roughly a fifth of the goods in every consumer’s shopping cart. Surprisingly, legitimately spoiled food is the smallest portion of food wasted.
Why Do We Waste So Much Food?
We mean well. But sometimes we fill our carts with more than we can eat. Other times we throw out food that can still be eaten. On average, 90% of tossed food can be safely consumed. I had to read that several times to let it truly sink in.
Almost all of the food in the trash could still be eaten. So why are we throwing all of this food out if it is still good? Some are making the case that confusing food expiration dates are partially to blame. Well-meaning consumers are reading dates on their food and tossing items long before it has spoiled.
Food Expiration Dates
There is no standard for food expiration date labels in the United States. You are likely to see several different terms on your food, none of which is an actual expiration date. Adding to the confusion is the various positions on the items and the fact that some manufacturers use labeling while others don’t.
The National Resources Defense Council says, “instead of offering the type of clear and unambiguous information that consumers seek, date labels can and do confuse and mislead the consumer.”
The following food expiration dates are ones that you are likely to see on your groceries.
- A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality.
- A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.
- A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management.
- A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality.
It’s important to note that none of these dates are expiration dates.
Are There Any Foods Required To Have Expiration Dates?
The only food required to have a date on it is baby formula. According to the FDA, these products are required to have a “Use By” date, up to which the manufacturer has confirmed that the product contains no less than a minimum amount of each nutrient identified on the product label and that the product will be of acceptable quality.
How to Tell if Food is Bad?
So if the dates on the foods are not expiration dates, how is a consumer to tell if their food is still consumable? The answer is surprisingly simple. Smell it. Look at it. Examine it for quality. If the looks or smells have changed, it’s not right.
If you are looking for a more guided approach, check out the USDA’s FoodKeeper. You can simply type in what you are looking for advice on, and it will tell you when it should be consumed. You can download the app here for Apple and here for Android. It is effortless to use and filled with helpful information.
Here’s some advice about commonly used foods.
How Long Are Eggs Good For After Sell-By Date?
According to the American Egg Board, “Refrigerated raw shell eggs will keep without significant quality loss for about 4 to 5 weeks beyond the pack date or about 3 weeks after you bring them home. For longer storage, beat whole eggs just until blended, pour into freezer containers, seal the containers tightly, label with the number of eggs and the date, and freeze for up to 1 year. Substitute 3 tablespoons thawed whole egg for 1 Large fresh egg. Avoid freezing hard-boiled whole eggs or hard-boiled whites as freezing causes them to become tough and watery.”
Does Honey Expire?
Honey does not expire since it is antibacterial. The Ph levels are high enough to stave off any bacteria growth. It may change color or texture over time, but it doesn’t expire. Crystallized honey does not mean it has gone bad. To revive it, simply place it in a glass of hot water.
The only thing that will make honey go bad is moisture. You will know if it spoiled as it will taste sour. The best thing to do is to store it at room temperature (between 60 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit).
Does Pasta Expire?
No, pasta does not expire. There is nothing in it to go rancid. It can go stale, which causes a decrease in freshness and quality.
What Do You Think?
Are you guilty of throwing out good food? Any tips you can share for monitoring food expiration dates? After learning all about these labels, I may not be rifling through the milk bins anymore!
Interested in trying to lessen your food waste? Check out our article on How to Repurpose Leftovers.
Happy Pantry Cleaning!