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What’s in a date?: Examine food before tossing and save some dollars

Dates on food items can be confusing. Don't toss anything, though, without first knowing what the date means and then examining it yourself.

by Erin at SlimSavers.com

A lot of food gets thrown in the garbage because it’s spoiled – or at least we think it is if we’re looking at it after the date printed on the packaging.

How many times have you studied something that looks OK but has a date on it that’s past? I know I’ve stared at a hummus container and tossed it because the date on it was two days ago. Often, the container wasn’t even opened. UGH! Painful!

What’s in a date?

Surprisingly, there are no federal food regulations for dating any products except infant formula. However, according to the USDA, at least 20 states require food dating. The feds do regulate the details of the date if manufacturers choose to show a calendar date. If a calendar date is used, according to the USDA, it must have at least a month and day. If the products are shelf-stable, like rice, or frozen, a year has to be on there, too. Also, if a date is used, the manufacturer must indicate if the date is a “sell-by” or “use-by” date. Most dairy, meat, poultry, and other perishable food have calendar dates that consumers can understand as opposed to the coded dates only the manufacturers can decipher.

Sell-by: This date is for the store to use to determine how long the product can sit on the shelf for.

Best if Used By/Before: Recommended date to eat the item by for best taste and quality.

Use-by: The date you should probably eat the item by. This is what we would consider the expiration date.

These dates still don’t help you, though. It all comes down to storage and appearance. If you properly store the food item, you could eat it after these dates as long as it’s not growing anything or smelling funky. If food is mishandled, though, it could be harmful even before these dates.

According to the USDA, examples of potential food mishandling are leaving perishable food unrefrigerated for a long time; defrosting at room temperature for more than two hours; cross contamination; or handling the food without proper sanitation, like washing your hands before you handle the item.

It’s best to use your experience and judgment to decide whether something should be eaten or tossed. Examining something before you just pitch it will save you money (and heartache).

Read more at SlimSavers.com.

Erin and Joline, both health and wellness junkies, spent many years pinning down the truths about eating healthy and inexpensively. Both feel the it’s-too-expensive-to-eat-healthy excuse is untrue and infuriating.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Heidi Dezayas January 24, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Thanks for this! I always feel so guilty tossing something I've barely touched.

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