It’s your typical weekday routine: you wake up in the morning and have exactly 2.5 seconds to fix something to eat before work. Naturally, you pick up a box of your favorite cereal and just as you reach for the carton of milk, you notice that it expired…yesterday. The question is, do you pour yourself a bowl or is it time to put it down the drain?
We’ve all been faced with a similar situation at some point in our lives. Whether we want to admit it or not, the majority of people will use an item after it has passed the date stamped on the carton. Take a deep breath; because the fact is, expiration dates do not have to be followed to a T, rather they are more along the lines of loose guidelines. The only item that The Food and Drug Administration does regulate the expiration date on is baby formula.
If you can’t see anything growing on it or it doesn’t smell, it should be okay to eat, right? Not so fast, just because you can’t see or smell anything doesn’t mean that the food is safe. According to Robert B. Gravani, a professor of food science at Cornell University, “foods spoil at different rates, depending on their type and growing conditions, as well as how they were harvested, transported and distributed, and how they have been stored after being purchased.” Bottom line, if it’s slimy, has a funny smell, has something clearly on it, or you can’t remember when you purchased the item, it’s time to throw it out.
Here’s a quick guide to what the numbers mean:
Sell by-this date lets the store know how long it should keep it on it’s shelves. If the food is stored properly, it is totally safe to eat a few days after the printed date.
Use by (or best if used by)-straight from the manufacture, this date is strictly for taste and texture. Since it has nothing to do with safety, it is completely acceptable to consume after the date listed.
Expiration-this date is the one you should pay special attention to, as it is the only date directly related to the safety of the food. Don’t chance it on this one, if the date has passed, it’s time to toss!