Do You Really Need to Toss Food Once the "Use-By" Date Expires?

Categories: Talking Points
Most of us conduct periodic sweeps through the refrigerator to ferret out the molding fruit salads and check the cartons of yogurt and eggs to see whether we've been keeping them too long. On Grist, though, National Resources Defense Council scientist Dana Gunders says that "use-by" dates are not a good guideline for knowing when something is ready to toss.
A quick look at USDA's food labeling site confirms that the only product for which "use-by" dates are federally regulated is infant formula. Beyond that, some states regulate dates for some products, but generally "use-by" and "best-by" dates are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality.

Suggestions. For peak quality. That's all.
SFoodie recently overheard some people in a grocery store talking about how they'd had to toss out their mustard because the date had expired. A condiment primarily containing vinegar and mustard seeds that was created several millennia ago to be stored in a non-refrigerated environment? Hardly dangerous. One UK organization estimates that 20 percent of consumer food waste can be attributed to customers believing they had to toss food at its "sell-by" date.

Gunders' advice: "If that milk smells rotten, by all means throw it away." That's the approach we take. But in an era when most food is so highly processed that we don't recognize most of the ingredients, it's hard to know when all of them will go rotten.

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If you're eating food so highly processed that you don't recognize most of the ingredients, you've got bigger problems than debating whether the expy date is accurate.

Jessica Hampton
Jessica Hampton

It's great to have that clarified a bit even though I've always felt if the color and\or odor of something was fine, there is no issue with eating it...and never had a problem yet!  I have friends that swear by the dates and will toss anything over - much too wasteful for me!!


Whenever unfortunately having to purchase anything from the Whole Foods on Franklin, I typically have to cut the expiration date in half, especially with dairy products.  I've no idea how appalling their storage systems must be, but nothing from that store keeps.

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