How much stock should consumers put into food ‘sell by’ dates?

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EDISON -

Most people who discover that items in their refrigerator or pantry are passed their expiration date often throw those items out.

But experts say that this may not be necessary and say that many people are actually wasting food. They say that 90 percent of Americans throw out their food too soon.

“I think it’s important to understand that the date is not telling you to thrown that food out,’ says scientist Dana Gunders. “It’s saying, ‘Hey, we promise this food to be at its best quality until then.”

Gunders specializes in food waste. She says that if the food is passed the date, but looks, smells and tastes fine, it’s probably OK to eat.

Legally the dates found on food labels are almost always a suggestion. Infant formula is the only product that has to be pulled off all the shelves nationwide once it has reached its expiration date.

Milk needs a “sell by” date to be sold in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, but only New Jersey enforces it.

Canned food will typically last one or two years past its date. But the United States Department of Agriculture warns consumers to make sure that the can is not dented or bulging.

Dry goods like breakfast cereal or pasta can safely go months beyond their “best by” dates. The USDA says that there isn’t really anything in dry goods that can spoil – but those items may go stale.

The expiration for meat and poultry depends on how it is stored. If it is kept in the refrigerator, meat will last up to five days. Meat can last indefinitely in the freezer, but it will taste best in the first six to 12 months. 

Industry groups have suggested that food companies simplify to just two labels – “best if used by” and “use by” or “expires on.” But so far, that hasn’t happened.

More information about food dating can be found at the USDA’s website.

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