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Diva: The great “Expiration Date” hoax

Let me begin by making it clear — I am not recommending you eat spoiled food. However, I am going to encourage you to rethink what we’ve been told regarding expiration dates and food safety.

How important are the expiration dates on the food in your kitchen? They’re not.

I’ve done a lot of research and it turns out they have little to do with food safety. I was surprised to learn they are unregulated. To quote the USDA – “There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States.” The major exception is infant formula. This is strictly regulated, for good reason, so pay attention to those dates.

The manufacturer alone decides on expiration dates and has a vested interest in having their products removed from the shelves due to “expiration.”

This forces grocery stores to purchase more of their product; improving manufacturer’s profitability. It doesn’t matter if the product ends out in the landfill as long as they keep buying more. The amount of perfectly good food thrown away because of these arbitrary expiration dates is obscene.

There is a difference between perishable (fresh) foods and non-perishable (canned, frozen, packaged and processed) foods. The “Sell By” date seen on fresh meats, dairy and produce is important. It tells the store how long to offer the product for sale as determined by the manufacturer. This helps us choose the freshest products but says nothing about the product’s safety.

Remember, your fresh foods cannot magically manifest disease causing bacteria and become unsafe on the expiration date.

If your fresh meats, eggs or produce have been exposed to illness causing pathogens like E. coli, listeria or whatever, it likely happened before it got to the store and therefore the expiration date has nothing to do with it.

The “Sell By” dates are overly-cautious because the producers have to take into consideration the goofballs who buy groceries then leave them in a hot car while they go to the movies.

The food may be within the “safe” dates but will still spoil prematurely due to improper handling.

You’ll be fine assuming you transport and store foods properly, cook and/or freeze the product within a reasonable amount of time. If your food shows signs of spoilage – throw it out regardless of the dates on the packaging.

Non-perishable foods have other categories. “Best By,” “Use By” and “Best Before” dates are the manufacturer’s guideline on how long the food will stay at peak quality.

Peak quality is highly subjective and has nothing to do with product safety. Unopened foods that have been stored properly will be perfectly safe long past the “Best By” dates.

Once opened, follow the storage directions on the packaging (like refrigerate after opening) and the product will be good long after the date. Unopened non-perishable foods stay safe for long periods of time.

You may begin to see a gradual decline in the quality of the product, color, fragrance or texture but the food will still be perfectly safe to consume.

A fantastic resource for questions about the shelf life of foods is the website Still Tasty — www.stilltasty.com. Bookmark that one!

Contributed by Patti Diamond from Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous! www.divasonadime.com

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