Eating Food Past the "Sell By" or "Best By" Date

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Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427
Eating Food Past the "Sell By" or "Best By" Date

http://money.blogs.time.com/2011/04/13/the-joy-and-wisdom-of-eating-food-past-the-expiration-date/

The Joy and Wisdom of Eating Food Past the Expiration Date

OK, maybe "joy" is overstating things a bit. Still, USDA-funded researchers say that U.S. households throw away 14% of their food purchases, and that estimate seems conservative: Another study claims that roughly 25% of food ($100 billion annually) is bought, then never eaten and thrown out by American consumers. Much of this food is tossed unwisely: In a survey, more than three-quarters of Americans mistakenly thought they would get sick by eating foods that were passed the expiration date but were actually perfectly safe.

Under what circumstances is it OK to eat foods beyond their expiration date? What does the expiration date even mean? What happens in a household where one spouse is a diligent, by-the-book food tosser and the other takes the more lax, smells-OK-to-me approach?

A Boston Globe story explores these and other topics. Prominently featured in the story is an interesting website that's new to me: ShelfLifeAdvice. The site, with the help of Harris Interactive, conducted the survey revealing that 76% of consumers mistakenly believe certain foods are unsafe past the dates printed on the packaging. Eggs, for example, have a "sell-by" date, and many consumers perceive this as the date by which the eggs must be consumed. In fact, if eggs are stored properly in a refrigerator, they'll be fine for eating three to five weeks beyond that date.

In the survey, 61% of people were wrong about their understanding of the dates printed on milk cartons. The date on the carton, in fact, is not the last day on which milk can be consumed safely. Here's the real deal:
[INDENT]“Generally, milk has no ‘off flavor' up to five days after the printed date passes. When off flavors can be detected, the off flavors are produced by [harmless] bacteria, so even this milk could be consumed without making one sick,” said Clair Hicks, Ph.D, professor of food science at the University of Kentucky and member of the ShelfLifeAdvice.com Board of Advisors.
[/INDENT]What's a little gag reflex, right?

While I'm not so sure I'll be drinking milk with an "off" flavor anytime soon, it's good to hear that there's no need to freak out and run to the ER upon realizing the milk I just poured into my kid's cereal was a day or two past the expiration date.

Or is that "sell-by" date? "Use-by" date? What are the differences with these terms? Are there differences? No wonder people are so confused and wind up just throwing stuff away.

A recent post at ShelfLifeAdvice attempts at explaining what these terms mean, clarifying, for example:
[INDENT]Food product dating is about quality, NOT safety. "Best if used by" means exactly that. It's the last date the item will be at its peak quality in terms of taste, texture, color, scent and/or nutritional value, according to its manufacturer. "Use by" is not a warning of impending doom if the product is not banished to the garbage can immediately.
[/INDENT]Now, the knowledge that you are not headed toward impending doom should bring you some peace of mind, if not outright joy.

So what about you - do you eat/serve food that is past it's "sell by" or "best by" date?

Gina's picture
Joined: 08/04/09
Posts: 29

I have always heard that use by or sell by was for the seller, not us for consumption. I just smell it and eat it if it's good.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

I'm really weird about dairy products - the slightest chance that they might be "off" is enough to make my stomach heave. DH always rolls his eyes because I will not keep any sort of dairy (sour cream, yogurt, milk) even a day past the "best by" date, and start to eye them warily once they start to get anywhere close.

I think for most other things I would trust my eyes and nose (and taste, if it made it past the eye and nose test) to a certain extent, but I still wouldn't eat something that was very far past it's best by date. Like maybe a month or two for dried goods like pasta.

ClairesMommy's picture
Joined: 08/15/06
Posts: 2299

I generally will throw out milk that's even one day past it's 'best before' date. I've had a few experiences with stinky gross milk (whole milk of DS's) before the date, so I just have an aversion, I suppose. However, I've used sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt and eggs a day or two past the date and have never once smelled or tasted anything 'off'.

What I'd like to know is how all those extreme couponers (like the ones on the new TLC show) manage to use 60 bottles of salad dressing or 40 jars of mayo before they expire.:eek:

Joined: 01/06/03
Posts: 1175

"Claire'sMommy" wrote:

I've used sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt and eggs a day or two past the date and have never once smelled or tasted anything 'off'.

Ditto... except for the eggs. Though in most cases, I'll only use it if I'm cooking with it. I don't know why but cooked seems better than not LOL I can't say I've ever paid attention to the date on eggs, they get used when they get used... sometimes quicker than other times and since I've never looked I couldn't tell you if they were used before the date or not.

Canned/boxed goods... unless the boxed stuff is opened and therefore stale... I don't usually worry about... unless it's ages past.

I do know that at the school they are not allowed to serve milk or anything else if it is on or past the "best before date"... despite the fact it is likely perfectly fine.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

Right?!? I almost think that's like a hoarding thing. There is NO reason to buy 60 bottles of salad dressing for normal family use - I don't care how cheap it is. You'd just end up throwing most of it away.

Andy1784's picture
Joined: 09/18/08
Posts: 1372

I know someone who is heavily into couponing and she donates what she won't use to charities and she gets the tax credit for the shelf price of that item. She donates quite a bit so I would guess it adds up monetarily.

I am very sensitive to milk turning sour. I can taste it when milk is within a couple of days of the best by date. I have tested myself doing blind taste tests and I can often tell the relative age of milk. Everything else I leave more leeway if the food isn't too far past due.

Eggs that I buy have sell by dates so I always assume they are good a few weeks out from that. I'm glad to read that is indeed the case :).

wlillie's picture
Joined: 09/17/07
Posts: 1796

I had no clue about the eggs. I smell milk. I don't care if it's "safe," if it stinks, I'm not going to drink it. I don't often look at the dates for anything else, but go by how vegetables and fruit look and pretty much everything else is smell.

I did happen to glance at some potatoes in a box (horrible mother, I know) this week and they were best by 2/10/10. We still ate them. Biggrin

eta- I have a small stockpile. I share with family whenever they come over and use it for gifts (usually in a basket) for things like daycare and the like. And donate a lot too.

ceres's picture
Joined: 03/29/05
Posts: 115

I don't go by dates on a package at all. I don't smell milk either. The only time I wouldn't drink milk is if it poured out chunky. I'm one of those people who just cuts the moldy part off the cheddar and eats the rest. I also shop at discount stores that sell the expired dry and can goods grocery stores otherwise throw away. I can't say I've ever gotten ill from anything expired I've eaten.

My husband is a "milk smeller" and I make fun of him for it. He will literally pull the tab off the milk and smell it right away, and then anytime he opens it to have a glass he smells it. He's tried to throw away milk he thought smelled off before and I drank it so it didn't go to waste, it tasted fine.

fuchsiasky's picture
Joined: 11/16/07
Posts: 955

The only thing I am particular about is milk products. I always toss them after the best before date. But I don't like most milk products so I can't actually tell if they are off.

ange84's picture
Joined: 12/28/09
Posts: 6564

The smell test for milkdoesn't work for me, it always smells off. I go by best before dates and it goes if it's past the date.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

"ange84" wrote:

The smell test for milkdoesn't work for me, it always smells off. I go by best before dates and it goes if it's past the date.

Same here. Milk kind of grosses me out anyway (I dont drink it, but I cook with it, and DS and DH both drink it.) It ALWAYS smells gross to me. Sometimes if it is right at the expiration date I will have DH smell it to give his opinion. Otherwise, once it is past the date, its gone.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4106

"ceres" wrote:

I don't go by dates on a package at all. I don't smell milk either. The only time I wouldn't drink milk is if it poured out chunky. I'm one of those people who just cuts the moldy part off the cheddar and eats the rest. I also shop at discount stores that sell the expired dry and can goods grocery stores otherwise throw away. I can't say I've ever gotten ill from anything expired I've eaten.

This is me except I do smell milk if it has gone past the date unless I am just cooking with it. I'm always checking the discount stuff in the bakery that they sell discounted on the expiration date.

RebeccaA'07's picture
Joined: 11/19/07
Posts: 1628

I refuse to eat or drink anything past expiration; it gets thrown out at our house. Wasteful? Probably so but I can't stomach eating something 'bad' or serving it to my daughter. My Husband on the other hand, will cut around bad parts or eat things past the date. That's cool for him, not me!

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

"ceres" wrote:

I don't go by dates on a package at all. I don't smell milk either. The only time I wouldn't drink milk is if it poured out chunky. I'm one of those people who just cuts the moldy part off the cheddar and eats the rest. I also shop at discount stores that sell the expired dry and can goods grocery stores otherwise throw away. I can't say I've ever gotten ill from anything expired I've eaten.

My husband is a "milk smeller" and I make fun of him for it. He will literally pull the tab off the milk and smell it right away, and then anytime he opens it to have a glass he smells it. He's tried to throw away milk he thought smelled off before and I drank it so it didn't go to waste, it tasted fine.

This literally made my eyes water.

Joined: 03/21/11
Posts: 5

I usually don't pay attention to the dates either and just look for mold or give it a whiff. The exception is baby food in jars. Then I do toss it, though maybe I shouldn't?

ClairesMommy's picture
Joined: 08/15/06
Posts: 2299

Speaking of expired, anyone ever been on the lookout for the sippy cup that disappeared days ago and you've looked everywhere but can't find it, only to turn around and see your toddler raising it to their lips?:eek: Been there. A few times. Oh, and the pocket full of Cheerios - yeah, I'm pretty sure Cheerios stashed in the coat last winter aren't going to be as yummy this winter.;) Seriously, kids know the precise moment you're no longer watching so they can put away a few snacks or beverages for a rainy day. I lifted up the couch cushions on the weekend to vacuum and there was a whole digestive cookie and a half-eaten piece of cheese. Yuck. I love my Dyson.

Joined: 01/18/06
Posts: 1626

I'm very squeamish about that kind of thing. Except eggs. The thing about eggs is the date is when they start to lose nutrients. They're only rotten when they look or smell off.

Meat, leftovers, milk and other dairy products are absolutely on a strict time limit. I've had food poisoning before and don't plan to ever have it again.

Joined: 06/04/07
Posts: 1368

The only food we throw away sometimes before the sell by date is milk. We've had milk go bad before the date (although rare milk even lasts that long.) The rest we do the smell test. It's easy to tell with the rest of the dairy products. As for eggs, they can even go unrefrigerated for long periods of time as it's normal to not refrigerate eggs in some countries. But if we are in doubt about the freshness, a trick I was taught by someone who's job was to grade eggs was to place the egg in a bowl of water. If it sinks, it's still good. If it floats, throw.

elleon17's picture
Joined: 01/26/09
Posts: 1981

I do smell and look test on everything. I rarely pay attention to expiration dates.

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