How many times have you opened a bag of salad and smelled it or looked at a jar of jelly and said, “I wonder if this is still good?”.
When you shop in the market you always see those labels on most perishable food, you will find “sell by,” “use by,” or “best by,” in fine print. But what exactly does that mean? If it is a day after, do you toss it or should you hang on to it? How does this product know that it’s time is up? This is a constant battle in many households! I cannot tell you how many times I have thrown away a bag of lettuce that had just smelled bad!
I have taken the guess work out of this for all of us mom’s who constantly ask these questions! Let’s take a look at each term so you know what they really mean.
EXPIRATION or USE BY
This is the most important term. It is the BIGGY! “Use by” and Exp. or Expiration are interchangeable terms and they mean just that. The product is only good until this date. If you haven’t used it by the said date, toss it.
“SELL BY” or “PULL BY”
This term is designed for retailers not consumers. The term is a signal for them to pull the product, but generally, there is still time left to consume it. “Sell by” on milk for example, generally means milk will be good for at least one week after the date.
The key word here is “best.” The food should remain good after said date, but beyond it, something in the product like flavor or consistency will deteriorate. You should use your best judgment – or just go with your gut! No pun intended!
This label is often found on baked goods. If your product wears one of these, yet fails to be fresh, you’re advised to return it back to the store. Especially if you find it stale or growing mold. YUCK!
A Note on FDA Requirements
It is important to note that the FDA only requires infant formula and poultry packaged at the farm to wear an expiration date or “use by” label. In addition, beyond all of this terminology, food safety is also determined by how the product is handled; by you, grocers, and packers as well. It is absolutely mind boggling to think about how many people have come into contact with your food before it gets to your home or on your table! Perishable products must be kept at 34 degrees at the store. On your end, 40 degrees or lower keeps food fresh. Anything higher shortens the shelf life.
With all of this new knowledge I know that you will rest at ease the next time you grab that package of chicken! I would take this list to the market with you the next few times that you go so that you can really absorb the information!
There is a motto that I live by even after knowing all of this and it is…. When in doubt, throw it out!!!!