Thursday, November 27, 2014


I have noticed that a lot of people are confused by freshness dates on food. A recent study by Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic agrees. It concluded that more than 90% of people in America have thrown out food too soon because they misunderstood what the dates actually meant.

Here are the real meanings of those freshness dates according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
• A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
• A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.

So if these dates refer to quality, where does food safety come in at all? I would not dismiss the dates completely. After all, freshness does have something to do with safety as well as with quality. Personally, I use the dates in two ways.

First, when I am shopping, especially for products such as milk, eggs, meat, fish and so on, I always make sure I get the product with the latest date. You would be surprised at what a variety of dates there are for items such as milk on one shelf at a single store.

Secondly, I use the date as an indication of how long to keep the food. Yes, quality matters to me, but so does safety. No, I don’t always throw the item out as soon as it has reached the “use-by” date or the “best-by” date. Sometimes I keep it for a few more days. But I never rely exclusively on such dates. I also use the old-fashioned “look-and-sniff” approach as a guide.

If the food smells “off” even if the date says it shouldn’t, you may not want to take risks, especially if you are older, or have a suppressed immune system or are pregnant.

To your good health,