Guidelines to follow for consuming food
Many of us look at the sell-by date on food products in the store or in our home pantries and throw out foods that have passed these dates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for all food in the United States, has published food safety information about dates for consumers to understand. This is from its report.
Open dating is a calendar date applied to a food product by a manufacturer or retailer. This date provides consumers with information on the estimated period of time for which the product will be of the best quality and to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale.
Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by federal regulations. Do not buy or use baby formula after its use-by date.
There is no uniform or universally accepted description of food labels for open dating in the United States. As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases used on labels to describe quality dates. Examples of commonly used phrases include:
Best if used by/before — indicates when a product will be of the best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase-by or safety date.
Sell-by date — tells the store how long to display this inventory. This is not a safety date. A use-by date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The only safety date is for baby formula.
If the safety after date passes during home storage, with the exception of baby formula, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time of spoilage is evident. Spoiled foods will develop an odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If food has developed such spoilage characteristics, do not eat it; throw it out.
Canned goods must exhibit a code or the date of canning. Discard cans that are dented, rusted or swollen. High-acid canned foods (i.e., tomatoes and fruits) will keep their best quality for 12-18 months, whereas, low-acid canned foods (i.e., meats and vegetables) will keep for two to five years.
Can food be donated after the date passes? Yes. The quality of perishable products may deteriorate after the date passes, but the products should still be wholesome if not exhibiting signs of spoilage. Food banks, other charitable organizations and consumers should evaluate the quality of the product prior to its distribution and consumption to determine whether there are noticeable changes to wholesomeness.
In an effort to reduce food waste, it is important consumers understand the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety. Food products are safe to consume past the date on the label (except baby formula), and regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food product prior to its consumption.