If you already struggle to keep track of important dates like birthdays and anniversaries, the dates on the food in your refrigerator and pantry are sure to make life even more complicated.
But according to a Baylor College of Medicine nutrition expert, understanding the meaning of expiration, "use by" and "sell by" dates of foods is important not only in helping you and your family from getting foodborne illnesses, but also in keeping your family from wasting foods.
Kristi King, registered dietitian with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, breaks down the meaning of these dates for us.
The "use by" date means that the product will retain maximum flavor the way the company intended for it to taste until this date. Beyond this date, it can still be good, but the product may start to lessen in flavor or the texture may change.
The "sell by" date tells stores that this is the last day they should sell the specific package. There is still time to consume the product after this date, assuming it has been stored properly.
The expiration date means exactly what it says - the food is expired and should be thrown out.
According to King, many foods actually are still edible and safe after the date posted on the package, but offers the following tips to be sure:
- If the food has a bad odor, throw it out.
- If the color appears to be off, especially meats, it usually means the food has been exposed to oxygen for an extended period of time and may be at a higher risk of containing a "playground" for bacteria. Throw it out.
- If the food is slimy or grimy, throw it out.
If still unsure about how old the food is or whether or not it’s safe to eat, King recommends throwing it out.