Food "Sell By", "Best Used By" and "Use By" Dates: What They Really Tell You

Dec 11, 2015 05:20 AM EST | By Alexis Villarias

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"Sell-by" dates are the easiest way to tell when to throw out food, but does it really tell us that the product is bad? Here's what the "sell-by" date really tells you.

In most cases "sell-by" dates or "best used by" date is not an automatic indication that the food is not safe for consumption, reports ABC News. The U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us that the "sell-by" date is a suggestion for stores on how long the product is good for display. It doesn't mean that the product is already spoiled or not safe for consumptions when it reaches its "sell-by" or "best-by" date.

More so, "best used by" date does not inform you if the product is spoiled or not. In this case, the date will suggest the last date of the product's optimum freshness and taste. Take the canned goods for example; a canned soup with a "best if used by" date may still be safe to eat even after the date has passed however expect less flavour each passing day.

In fact, there are no federal requirements for putting expiration dates on food aside from infant formula. In the case of infant formula, consuming the milk after the "best used by" may give you less nutrients and the quality is not that good anymore; you may see it clog or separate.

In an interview with ABC, Dr. Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist with Consumers Union - a consumer trade group - tells that the dates listed on food does not give consumers any clue if a product is actually already bad or not.

"What most people think is that the food is bad after that date," Hansen said, "and that it could be a hazardous."

With this, the USDA has prepared guidelines on how long to keep perishable items in the fridge. This list of instructions should be followed regardless of "sell by" dates. Meanwhile, food items should be consumed well before its "use by" date.

To avoid food waste and maximize quality, be sure to buy food that you can actually consume. Let us be guided accordingly what "sell by", "best if used by" and "use by" dates mean.

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