Ask Well: Can You Eat Foods Past the ‘Sell By’ Date?Posted on July 17, 2016 by ECR Louisville in Blog, Cooking
Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times
The vast majority of food date labels, including “sell by,” “use by” and “best if used by,” are food manufacturers’ suggestions for peak freshness and taste, rather than indicators of food safety or health concerns. Such labels can be difficult to navigate, though, because the definitions of the terms aren’t standardized, and labeling practices can vary by product type and manufacturer.
As a general rule, most foods can be consumed days, weeks or even months past the dates printed on packaging. “Our bodies are well equipped to detect when food is spoiled,” said Dana Gunders, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “The food will taste funny or smell bad, or look slimy.” In most cases, she said, the worst that might happen is that you’ll get a stomachache from food that has gone bad.
An important exception, Ms. Gunders said, is food that has grown moldy, since some types of mold can produce toxins. She recommends you freeze foods like sliced bread that you won’t finish within a few days and store cheese in wax paper, which will keep it fresh longer than plastic wrap will.
Most food-borne illness occurs when food has been contaminated by a pathogen on the farm or at a processing plant, rather than from the natural process of decay or aging. Foods whose labeling dates you should pay particular attention to are the same ones pregnant women are cautioned to avoid, since they may harbor listeria, which unlike most bacteria can grow under refrigeration. Such foods include deli meats, unpasteurized dairy products, ready-to-eat refrigerated foods, and hot dogs and sausages that aren’t fully cooked.
Pasteurized dairy products tend to be among the safest foods; use the sniff test for products like milk. Eggs can be eaten three to five weeks after the “use by” date, Ms. Gunders said. A quick trick is to drop an egg in a glass of water: It will float if it’s bad and sink if it’s good.
More food storage tips can be found in the food storage directory atsavethefood.com, a public service campaign sponsored by the NRDC and the Ad Council.
To address consumer confusion and reduce waste, a proposed bill called the Food Date Labeling Act seeks to create a uniform national date labeling system with just two labels: one for quality, “best if used by,” and one for safety, “expires on.”
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The New York TimesBy SOPHIE EGAN