What food expiration dates *really* mean


If food labels weren’t difficult enough for you to understand, expiration dates can make it even harder. Sell-by? Use-by? Best-by? It can be tough to decode exactly when food should be thrown out or if it’s still good a date after it expires. Luckily, we’ve figured out the *true* meaning behind these questionable dates, that way you don’t have to worry if you should be eating those two-days-past-expiration box of cookies...or not. 

Sell by: 

This is the date that retailers should be removing a product from their shelf. Generally, this means that the food’s shelf life is 2/3 of the way done, meaning you still have plenty of time to enjoy.

Use by:
When a product is past it’s use by date, this means that it will be decreasing in quality quickly. By this point safety becomes a concern, so it’s probably time to throw it out.

Best by:

The best-by date is pretty self-explanatory; this is the date when the product’s quality starts to decline. Even if food is past it’s best-by date, it might still be safe to consume.

Still a bit concerned about expiration dates and food safety? Here are a few more tips:

If the use-by or best-by label is before the words “for safety”, these dates only refer to the quality. So, feel free to dig into your prepackaged salad if it’s a few dates past the best-by date. It might not be as tasty as it would have been when you first bought it but it won’t make you sick.

Though best-by and use-by dates on a product work well as guidelines, once you’ve opened a jar or can of something, these dates become a less accurate. Opened products are exposed to their environment, meaning they could end up spoiling at a faster rate. When you’re reading your food’s labels, remember that each company decides expiration dates themselves. There’s not set of rules or guidelines that tells a manufacturer which products should have which dates. 

Have you ever eaten something that was way past its expiration date? Share in the comments below.  


by Mallory Walker | 2/1/2016