FAQs on Food Product Dating

Shelf Life Advice answers all of your questions on Food Product Dating, food storage safety, food-borne illness, and more!

When to Throw Food Out? Not on the Use-By Date

eggs, salsa, yogurtOn August 24th, I got ambitious and cleaned out my refrigerator.  I found these foods--raw eggs, low-fat yogurt, and mild salsa--all languishing far beyond their so-called "expiration" dates.  I asked 4 of the scientists on the Shelf Life Advice Advisory Board to tell me if I could still eat them or if I had to throw them out.  The first 3 sections of this article let you compare their responses.  I hope their explanations help you make better decisions about what "old" food to discard and when.  Note that the philosophy often followed is "Waste not, want not."

Why do “best by” and “use by” dates sometimes seem conservative?

Can with expiration dateMany people say that they’ve eaten a lot of foods that looked and tasted just fine after the “use by” dates. Perhaps because manufacturers don’t know the conditions in the consumer’s home (especially the temperature and humidity) and how carefully (or carelessly) the product might be handled before it gets there, they choose to err on the side of caution. Another reason for conservative estimates may be that companies want to make every effort to avoid complaints, bad publicity, and lawsuits. But the main reason is this: once a product loses some of its original color, texture and/or nutritional value, it is no longer at its best. The “best by” date is supposed to be an indication of that turning point. However, the product may still taste fine and other changes be too minimal to notice. Customers would like to know when noticeable changes that interfere with enjoyment occur. But that’s an individual call. Some people have more sensitive taste buds and higher standards than others.

Do Food Product Dates Make Consumers Safer or Just Poorer?

Poor ManFood product dates encourage food waste—that’s what the creators of ShelfLifeAdvice.com hypothesized. To find out if they were right, they hired Harris Interactive to conduct a survey to test the theory.


More than 2,000 American adults responded to the following question about 10 food products: “To the best of your knowledge, which of the following refrigerated food products, if any, would be considered unsafe to consume once the date printed on the packaging has passed?”  The correct answer?  If properly handled, NONE of the products listed would cause illness if used shortly after the so-called “expiration” date.  Yet, 76% of respondents checked at least one.  Since most people don’t consume food they believe is unsafe to eat, the survey strongly suggests that most Americans throw out a lot of perfectly good food because the date on the package has passed, and they fear the product will make them sick.

When Did You Buy It? When Did You Open It?

Put a small sticker on each packaged food item, and write on it the date that you purchased the item. Then, when you open it for the first time, add that second date. Why? The “use by” date on the package becomes irrelevant once the product is opened. If you call a manufacturer or consult a website about how much longer a particular product will be tasty and/or safe to eat, these dates will be helpful.
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