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Baylor College of Medicine

Shelves full of perishable products in a grocery store.

How long will my food last?

Graciela Gutierrez

713-798-4710

Houston, TX -
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While takeout and food delivery is still an option, more people are cooking and eating at home these days as they follow “Stay Home, Stay Safe” measures, and that means buying more groceries than usual. A nutrition expert at Baylor College of Medicine has some tips on shelf life to avoid food related illnesses.

“Many foods and drinks purchased at the grocery store include a date, which indicates when it should be used or sold by,” said Roberta Anding, assistant professor and performance dietitian for the Comprehensive Health Care Clinic at Baylor. “These dates refer to the product's quality but it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be thrown out.”

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Types of Dates

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A sell-by date is just that. It helps stores to determine by which date to sell an item or keep it stocked. This is not a safety deadline, but may indicate products that have been sitting on the shelf longer. These foods are safe to use if past the sell-by date.

A best-by date means the food is still safe to use after that date but it is the recommended date for best flavor or quality.

A use-by date means it’s no longer at peak quality according to the manufacturer. The food would be safe to consume for a few more days assuming it was held at proper temperatures.

An expiration date means just that. You should not consume a food after this date.

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Rule of Thumb

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Remember these dates are a guide, and the assumption is that food has been properly handled,” Anding said. “If your food has an off color or smell, make sure to discard it even if it hasn’t passed the expiration date.”

If you are unsure about a particular food item in your refrigerator, consider downloading one of these free apps: “Is my food safe?” from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or “Food Keeper." Both can help to determine how long food can be stored and used. 

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