Take a look at almost any food you buy at the grocery store, and you're likely to find an expiration date. Most people use this date to determine whether or not food is safe to eat. However, rather than being hard deadlines after which a particular food is unsafe to consume, these dates are actually guidelines meant to help people enjoy food at its ideal level of freshness.
In about 20 states, packagers are required to label foods with an expiration date, but there is no federal regulation or requirement for such markings in all 50 states. Certain government agencies work to ensure the safety of the food consumed by the public, but they have yet to standardize rules for marking expiration dates.
The result is a confusing mix of "sell by," "best by" and "use of freeze by" language. Many consumers are left to wonder whether or not it is safe to eat something that is past the labeled date. Uncertainty over what those terms means leads consumers to throw away a large amount of food every year, and it may be completely unnecessary.
For instance, a sell by date on a package of food is actually intended more for the store than it is for the shopper. When an item nears its sell by date, store employees are likely to discount the product. This means a bargain for the consumer that is perfectly safe to eat. Refrigerated items should be used within a day or two, but frozen items with a sell by date can be stored for up to three months.
The best by and use by designations are really loose classifications with many foods being edible beyond these dates as long as they are properly stored. Items in a pantry that has a predictable temperature all year will keep for far longer than their best by date.
Use the date labeling on food as a handy guide, but don't assume that an item is bad simply because it's past the sell by or best by date. Properly handled food may have a much longer shelf life.
Keeping in mind that the true purpose of food is to provide nutrition and energy, take a look at this graphic representation of how long our foods keep, including fresh fruits/vegetables and meat.
In all the research for this blog post, we were never able to decode the "BF" in the expiration date shown in the photo above. Has that can been our Best Friend since 2010?
Your Health . . . It’s Worth It!
Dr. Kate Gerber & Dr. John Gerber