Hey! Jessie Groth here from Guckenheimer, part of the ISS family of services. Welcome to the latest edition of “Health Hacks.” But before we get started, I might have myself a little snack. Oh, wait, it’s sell by date was yesterday. Do I need to throw this out?
“Use by,” “Sell by,” “Best if used by” – if you do the shopping in your household, there’s a good chance you pay attention to expiration dates when you decide which items end up in your grocery cart, and, once purchased, when you throw them out. But, if you’re relying on these dates to determine whether food is safe to eat, you may be surprised that they actually offer no insight into food safety! Is your mind blown? You’re not alone – one study found that more than half of all Americans think the “use by” date is an indicator of micro-biological safety.
So what do those dates really mean? They are suggestions by the manufacturer for when the food is at its freshest. Specifically, “BEST if Used By” is a subjective guess of when the manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor. The “Use by” date applies to when that “peak flavor” will end. As the “use by” date passes, the quality of the product will start to deteriorate – but that doesn’t mean you have to pull them from your shelves. It just means that beyond that date, the manufacturer can no longer guarantee the standard of their brand’s quality.
The USDA estimated 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the US each year – nearly a third of the available food supply worth an estimated $161 billion. With food reaching landfills more than any other single material in the US, reducing food waste would also have an enormous environmental impact. So now that we know there’s a cushion of safety built into expiration dates, here are some foods you can bend the rules on.
Milk &Yogurt: Unopened pasteurized milk and yogurt that passes the “sniff” test is good for up to a week after its sell-by date. In fact, even when it becomes sour, the milk can be used for baked goods, pancakes, and homemade cottage cheese, like a substitute for buttermilk.
Eggs: Fresh eggs kept in the fridge will last for 3-4 weeks beyond the “best by” date without change in their nutrients. Older eggs are better for whipping into a meringue and are easier to peel when hard-boiled!
Cheese: If cheese is past the expiration date, again use the sniff test. If opened, it can be good for at least 2 more weeks – or if unopened, at least a month. Find a spot of mold? On a hard cheese like cheddar, remove the mold plus an inch around it. For soft cheese, throw it away.
What labels should you heed? Foods and beverages that are vulnerable to listeria contamination, including unpasteurized milk and cheese, hot dogs, processed meats and unwashed produce. Listeria, a foodborne illness that can be life threatening, can survive even at refrigeration temperatures, so it is best to take caution.
And of course, the most important thing to consider when evaluating whether you should use a food or toss it: where it’s been. The temperature danger zone for food is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit – if left at this temperature for more than 2 hours, a food will not be safe thereafter, no matter what its label says.
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