The Perfect Guide to Food Expiration: Can You Eat “Best By” Foods Past the Date?

When it comes to food safety, understanding the meaning of food expiration dates such as “best by” or “sell by” is crucial. Many people are confused about these labels and often throw away food that is still safe to eat. This not only leads to unnecessary waste but also to unnecessary spending. So, can you eat “best by” foods past the date? The short answer is yes, but there’s more to it. Let’s delve deeper into this topic.

Understanding Food Expiration Dates

Food expiration dates are not legally regulated in many countries, except for infant formula. Manufacturers provide these dates to indicate when the product is at its peak quality. Here’s what some common labels mean:

  • “Best by” or “Best if Used By”: This date suggests when the food is at its best flavor and quality. It is not a safety date, so the food doesn’t necessarily spoil after this date.
  • “Sell by”: This date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Consumers should buy the product before this date expires, but it doesn’t mean that the product is unsafe to eat after this date.
  • “Use by”: This is the last date recommended for the use of the product at peak quality. It is not a safety date, except when used on infant formula.

How Long Can You Keep “Best By” Foods?

The length of time you can keep “best by” foods depends on the type of food and how it is stored. Non-perishable foods like canned goods and dried pasta can last for years past their “best by” dates if stored properly. Perishable foods like meat, dairy, and fresh produce have a shorter shelf life and should be consumed close to the “best by” date.

How to Determine If Food Is Safe to Eat

While “best by” dates are helpful, they are not the final authority on food safety. Here are some tips to determine if food is safe to eat:

  • Check for signs of spoilage: Look for changes in color, texture, or smell. If the food has mold, an off smell, or a slimy texture, it’s best to throw it away.
  • Store food properly: Proper storage can extend the life of your food. Keep your refrigerator below 40°F (4°C), and store dry goods in a cool, dry place.
  • Trust your senses: If you’re unsure about a food item, trust your senses. If it looks, smells, or tastes off, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

In conclusion, “best by” dates are more about quality than safety. While it’s generally safe to eat these foods past the date, always check for signs of spoilage and store food properly to ensure it stays safe to eat.