How seriously do you take "best by" dates on groceries?

drummerboy

At best, they are just a vague guideline as to when taste might suffer. At worst, they're a means for food companies to get us to buy more stuff.

I heard a piece on NPR today about the enormous waste of food in the U.S., and the "best by" dates were cited as one of the problems, because people don't understand what they mean, so they throw food away when it it's still perfectly fine to eat.

For me, I use my nose to tell me if something is past it's prime.


sprout

I have a sensitive stomach, so I won't eat anything after the 'best by' date. However my spouse will eat things until they turn fuzzy or totally stinky. Since he regularly creates his dinner from the fridge stuff that I won't touch, it saves me a lot of guilt.


drummerboy

sprout said:

I have a sensitive stomach, so I won't eat anything after the 'best by' date. However my spouse will eat things until they turn fuzzy or totally stinky. Since he regularly creates his dinner from the fridge stuff that I won't touch, it saves me a lot of guilt.

 hmm. I think that maybe there's a middle ground in there somewhere...


mjc

When i'm on my game (less and less frequently these days), i wouldn't buy an "expired" item unless it was marked way down and was "best by" rather than "use by."

Once they're in the house, i'm really not particular on packaged things (cans, boxes) but would watch pretty carefully on meat, milk, deli items, not necessarily to toss them, but to review smell, appearance etc.  Of the things we buy regularly, skim milk seems the most likely to actually go off near its marked date.

I think i heard that same NPR piece, and it's loosened my attitude up a lot.


conandrob240

Milk gets tossed or used exactly at use by date as does any type of meat. Other dairy (cultured stuff like yogurt), I usually will eat it probably 3-7 days after the use by date once it passes the sniff test. Frozen stuff, that can go a few weeks or even a month or two past “best by”. If it’s not refrigerated/frozen, I don’t really pay much attention and might even use it up to full year after best by date. Exception would be grainy type stuff that I get paranoid might get buggy.


conandrob240

mjc said:

When i'm on my game (less and less frequently these days), i wouldn't buy an "expired" item unless it was marked way down and was "best by" rather than "use by."

Once they're in the house, i'm really not particular on packaged things (cans, boxes) but would watch pretty carefully on meat, milk, deli items, not necessarily to toss them, but to review smell, appearance etc.  Of the things we buy regularly, skim milk seems the most likely to actually go off near its marked date.

I think i heard that same NPR piece, and it's loosened my attitude up a lot.

 Stores aren’t allowed to sell expired items. Even on mark down. They can mark them down close to expiration date but once it’s expired, it needs to be pulled.


mjc

I didn't know that was the rule, but pretty sure it's not universally practiced. : )  Or, maybe it's not that i'm not noticing the dates, maybe the expired stuff really isn't there.  That would be sort of reassuring....


drummerboy

Yeah, I don't buy expired stuff, but once it's in the house, all bets are off. Sometimes I just use the dates to give me an excuse to throw stuff out and clean house, even though it's probably perfectly edible.

Which makes me part of the food waste problem. LOL


conandrob240

mjc said:

I didn't know that was the rule, but pretty sure it's not universally practiced. : )  Or, maybe it's not that i'm not noticing the dates, maybe the expired stuff really isn't there.  That would be sort of reassuring....

It’s not supposed to be on the shelf once it’s expired. I think it’s against the law. Say something if you see it in a store. 


joanne

Writing as a Food Safety Supervisor who aced her last Environmental Health (kitchen) audit from the Gold Coast City Council inspector:

OK here’s the science in layman’s terms. Read Choice, read your central Food Safety authority site (FDA?) and understand your labelling laws.

Then make up your own mind, but be very careful when catering for guests or extended family etc. 

As noted above, Best By is not the same as Use By, and yes there is a heck of a lot of unnecessary food waste. But there’s a lot of necessary consumer protection around our food supply, and you can bet the next time someone gets really sick or dies around whimsical care re labels and dates, it’ll be the retailer and manufacturer that’ll be blamed not the consumer/home préparer who chose to ignore the warnings and then didn’t tell anyone.

Food no longer travels as well as it used to unless it’s packaged robustly, or carefully refrigerated. If you can’t guarantee constant refrigeration for all of the product’s life until you need it, stick to the dates (the 2hr/4hr rule).

If the packaging in anyway shows any sign of no longer being airtight or having pests/contaminants etc, rotate out immediately. Many foods lose nutrition rapidly and are stored much longer than they used to be - if you’ve had something in your pantry over 12 months, truly consider how long over that Use By date you’d be prepared to go. 

NEVER rely on the sniff test. Deterioration starts waaay before you can smell it.  If you can smell, you might already have made people ill for 24 hours at least. 

Many forms of ‘food poisoning’ start up to a week before people think they first started to feel unwell, but all they remember is the last thing they ate. 

And, carefully consider the food chemicals each foodstuff breaks down into as it ages. This can lead to situations compounding sensitivities, allergies, illnesses (IBS etc), and as mentioned above, food poisoning.


joanne

Wasn’t there a previous thread on this back when JML was writing?? It seems to come up regularly. 


joan_crystal

I read use by date when food shopping to find and purchase the freshest product available.  Sometimes two different packages of the same product can have best by dates a week apart!  The later the best by date, the greater likelihood I will be able to finish the item before it goes bad.  I also pay close attention to storage recommendations.  This helps keep products fresh as long as possible.  Finishing food items by best by date is a real problem for those of us in small house holds.  Having some foods available in single serving size while environmentally unfriendly from an increased packaging standpoint would help reduce food waste due to spoilage.


HatsOff

What Joan said ... I think this is one reason why those Blue Apron type services are so popular. I tried a couple of them a few years ago and was appalled by the amount of packaging, but one side benefit is no jars of random condiments of unknown age hanging around in my fridge.

That's the bigger issue for me. I don't worry about unopened pantry stuff so much unless something is long past its best-by date. I'm pretty good about keeping track of what's in my cupboards so random long-expired things are not a huge issue for me. Perishables are another story - I'm pretty careful with those. If you've ever had food poisoning even once in your life, you do everything you can to never have that happen again. 

But the thing I ponder most on are things like mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, salsa, curry sauces, worcestershire, all those kinds of things that seem to take up half the room in my fridge and that we don't use very often and/or don't eat the whole thing in one go (like salsa or barbecue sauce - I'll use half the jar, and the rest is waste). I really wish these things came in smaller containers. I'll look these up on websites like "still tasty" but if I can't remember when I opened it, their recommendations do little good so I'll just toss. I feel like I'm throwing out too much food.



sprout

I use a Sharpie to write on the lid of the ketchup, mustard, jam, etc., the date I opened them. Takes the guesswork out of how long they've been sitting in the fridge. 


HatsOff

sprout said:

I use a Sharpie to write on the lid of the ketchup, mustard, jam, etc., the date I opened them. Takes the guesswork out of how long they've been sitting in the fridge. 

That is a very good and in retrospect totally obvious idea. I'll be doing that from now on! I keep a sharpie in the kitchen for marking stuff I put into the freezer, but it never occurred to me to do that on fridge stuff. (Doh.)

It still doesn't solve the problem of jars of things that are too big - but it certainly helps in making the call whether to use or toss.


sprout

HatsOff said:

sprout said:

I use a Sharpie to write on the lid of the ketchup, mustard, jam, etc., the date I opened them. Takes the guesswork out of how long they've been sitting in the fridge. 

That is a very good and in retrospect totally obvious idea. 

I didn't start doing this until someone suggested it once I was well into my 40's... and I thought the same thing.


tomcat

I also write dates on spice jars.  Most spices do not go bad as such, but they loose potency fairly quickly.


joanne

An executive chef once mentioned during an audit that if an opened airtight jar has a condiment with salt, vinegar or sugar as a large component, then the salt, vinegar or sugar act as the preserving medium and should be slowing down the ageing process. You still need to be vigilant for contamination, but you have a little leeway. 

The best rule is, when in doubt throw it out. If you don’t want to waste it, throw it in your compost bin. We should be composting a lot more than we do.


conandrob240

sprout said:

I use a Sharpie to write on the lid of the ketchup, mustard, jam, etc., the date I opened them. Takes the guesswork out of how long they've been sitting in the fridge. 

 And then what? What guide do you use as to when to throw them out?


sprout

conandrob240 said:

sprout said:

I use a Sharpie to write on the lid of the ketchup, mustard, jam, etc., the date I opened them. Takes the guesswork out of how long they've been sitting in the fridge. 

 And then what? What guide do you use as to when to throw them out?

Sometimes it just verifies or negates my toss/eat first instinct (If it's a year old, I'll toss it. If it's ketchup that has separated a bit, and I see it was just opened a month ago, I'll shake and use).

If you look at the date, and want an actual recommendation, there's a handy-dandy website to search the pantry and refrigerator life of opened (and unopened) items:

https://www.stilltasty.com/searchitems/searchpage


mantram

What about produce with best by dates? Celery, carrots, broccoli all still look good after the best by date, but I worry about lost nutritional value. WWYD?


PeterNem

There was an interesting article in the WSJ recently on this topic: https://www.wsj.com/articles/easy-fix-to-cut-food-waste-cleaning-up-date-labels-11567157400?mod=rsswn

Generally for fresh produce, dried goods and anything in a can I'd ignore the best by date as long as the food still looks/smells okay.

For meat and dairy I'll toss it pass the date (or freeze before).

When shopping for perishable items we'll always rummage and take the item with the longest date (often not at the front of the shelf). Also surprising how often you'll find something with a date that's already passed still on the shelf.


joan_crystal

PeterNem said:

There was an interesting article in the WSJ recently on this topic: https://www.wsj.com/articles/easy-fix-to-cut-food-waste-cleaning-up-date-labels-11567157400?mod=rsswn

Generally for fresh produce, dried goods and anything in a can I'd ignore the best by date as long as the food still looks/smells okay.

For meat and dairy I'll toss it pass the date (or freeze before).

When shopping for perishable items we'll always rummage and take the item with the longest date (often not at the front of the shelf). Also surprising how often you'll find something with a date that's already passed still on the shelf.

 Plus, if produce is packaged in clear plastic, a visual inspection will help you determine if or to what extent the produce shows signs of spoilage.  I generally avoid wet packaging since the water sometimes leaks into the packaging impacting freshness.




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