We waste a lot of food out of fear: Experts estimate that $165 billion worth gets tossed each year.
But most expiration dates are largely made up. According to The National Resource Defense Council, the “sell by” dates do indicate not whether foods are safe to eat — they simply tell you when food will reach its limits for “optimal quality.”
The handy website StillTasty compiles data from sources including the USDA, the FDA, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as food manufacturers themselves. The site provides helpful tips on when to dispose of hundreds of household goods.
Tips about the “sell by, best by, and used by” terms.
The USDA advises you to purchase the product before the “sell-by date,” and the “best if used by (or before)” date indicates when the product will have optimal taste and quality. “Use by” dates simply indicate the last day the food will be at its top quality.
The USDA notes that it’s OK to eat these foods past the dates on the packaging; however, this does not mean we are invincible from getting sick. “If foods are mishandled,” the USDA writes on its website, “foodborne bacteria can grow, and if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness — before or after the date on the package.” The only exception is infant formula, as the USDA advises parents to not buy or even use baby formula once the “use by” date rolls around.
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