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By Kristi King, Clinical Dietician

Use by Date. Sell by date. And Expiration Date. What do these really mean?

Does it mean, if it is one day past date, you will get sick? All of these questions I’m sure have run through your head at one point or another. Our goal is to give you a little insight to all of these dates and what it means for you, the customer and consumer, because knowing the difference can help reduce your risk of food-borne illnesses.

Use By: This means the product will retain maximum flavor the way the company intended for it to taste. Beyond this date, it can still be good, but the product may quickly start to lessen in flavor or the texture may significantly change.

Sell By: This is the date that tells the stores the last day they should sell that specific package. There is still time to consume the product after this date, assuming it has been stored properly.

Best By: This means the product will reach its peak freshness/taste by this date. You may still be able to consume after the date, but taste & texture may have changed.

Expiration: This is exactly what it means. Throw out the food!

Many foods are still edible and safe after the date posted on the package. Here are a few things you may not know:

  • Eggs can be consumed 3-5 weeks after the carton date, assuming they were stored properly.
  • Meats you usually want to cook or freeze within 1-2 days of the date just to be safe.
  • Milk, if it has been unopened up until the date, is usually good for up to 1 week after.
  • Canned vegetables that are low acid foods like greenbeans can usually be consumed up to 2-3 years (or more) after the date! High acidic foods like tomatoes are good for around 18 months after the date.
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However, you want to make sure before consuming the food that you use your senses (literally & figuratively):

  • 1) Does it smell funky? If so – chunk it!
  • 2) Does the color appear to be off? Especially with meats. This is usually an indication that it has been exposed to oxygen for an extended period of time and may be at higher risk of containing a playground for bacteria.
  • 3) Is it slimy or grimy? It may not be fine…

And remember, if you still aren’t sure how old something is or if it is safe to eat: When in doubt, throw it out!


Source: Texas Children’s Hospital

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