Keep it or toss it?
Best if used by
It must be a government agency in action. Probably the FDA or maybe the USDA or the Agriculture Department. But there’s some authority providing oversight and guaranteeing our food’s safety, right?
Expiration dating is a security blanket for consumers.
Freshness dating is not required by federal law for any food products except infant formula and certain baby foods. Some states require dating for dairy products, but there is no agreement or uniformity for freshness standards. For all other foods, labeling is voluntary. Producers can choose to slap on expiration dates, but there are no accurate or consistent freshness standards, and except for dairy products and formula, the retailers are free to keep the expired products on their store shelves.
A false sense of security
Don’t look to expiration dates to offer any kind of protection. The onus is on the consumer to decide if food is edible. In fairness to producers, they can’t control how we store and handle their products. Most expiration dates refer to the point when a product’s taste, texture, color, or nutritional benefits start to deteriorate rather than the point when you need to worry about the product’s safety.
Your best bet
If you think it smells funny…trust your nose.
For more information:
The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture has Fact Sheets covering many facets of safe food handling and food spoilage.
Still Tasty is a complete guide to the shelf life of commodity and brand name foods. It offers storage and handling tips, creates shopping lists, and can alert you to looming expiration dates. Still Tasty is also available as an iPhone application.