Monday, July 14, 2014

Food for thought.

"Sell by" date, Best by, Best if used by, Best before, Use by, born on, Packed on, Guaranteed fresh, etc.confusing?

Let us break these down for a better understanding as to what is what here.

Has anyone experienced this lately? The moment we begin to realize that the pack of food we bought is about to expire. Our creative side begins to think up brand new dishes which now include a mix of foods we normally would not put together. Well, before you begin making what will most likely become something with word SURPRISE in it, you may want to learn the truth about those dates on your food.

First, it might surprise you to find out that virtually all date labeling on food is voluntary. Yes, you read that correctly, voluntary. The only items required to have date labeling for expiration is infant formula, baby foods and a few states have laws requiring certain dairy products be pulled off shelves on the expiration date.
But the expiration date is not the only date we see on foods we buy. There is "Sell By", "Best if used by", "Guaranteed fresh", "Packed on", "Born on", "Discard by", and of course, "EXP" dates. Some manufacturers will leave you scratching your head trying to figure out their "Closed" or "Coded" dating system. 

"Sell By" date
This is a label that tells the store when to pull the item from its shelf. This is not mandatory at all and is only a rough guide telling you that the foods freshness, consistency and taste is going to be better if you buy it by this date. It is NOT a safety date. Items such as milk, eggs, and ground beef are safe beyond this date but the length of time varies greatly depending on the type of storage and how long the product was out of refrigeration.

The "Sell By" date also prompts a frugal buyer to dig deeper to find the freshest date. This is why the milk and egg displays are always out of date order. We have all reached around the milk in the front to get to the fresher milk in the back leaving the milk display out of order. Some of us even look around to make sure no one is looking because we think we are breaking some sort of rule. No worries, you are not, so let the digging begin.

"Best By", "Best if used by", "Best Before" and "Use By" date
This is exactly as stated. The date is voluntarily supplied by the manufacturer as a guide to tell you that the contents, if left unopened, are going to be at their highest quality by the date shown. After the date has passed, you may notice a difference in the taste, color, consistency and overall quality of the product but by no means does it mean the product is not safe to eat.
Your best bet for gauging the quality of a product is three senses test. First, look for signs of mold or discoloration, which may indicate spoilage. Second, sniff the food and look, or smell for, a foul or unusual odor. Third, if you have passed the first two tests then check a small amount for taste. If the food fails any of these tests you may want to discard it. Take into consideration there will be some changes in taste, smell and consistency over time. According to the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, this is NOT a safety date.

"Born on" date
We are all familiar with "Born on" dates made popular by the beer industry. These have actually been in use for quite some time and they are exactly as it sounds, the date the product was made. This is especially useful for products that begin to deteriorate starting the very date they are produced.

"Packed on" date
Just like it sounds, this is the date the product was packaged on. Many products such as aged meat, cheeses and more are not packaged the same day they are produced.

"Guaranteed Fresh" date
As the name implies, the manufacturer is stating that the product is going to be fresh on or before this date. Should the product not be fresh, the manufacturer will usually replace the product or refund it. We often see this on snack items, cereals, produce and other products.

See you next time when we reveal the truth about those "coded" expiration labels, plus an extremely useful chart to guide you in knowing when to toss the food.

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