The Difference Between the Dates

By: Rachel Nannola

Ever wonder what the date on the side of a food package means? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that Americans throw away the equivalent of 162 billion dollars in food every year. The dates on the sides of packaging can be confusing, which is probably why people are throwing away food unnecessarily. So let’s talk about what each type of packaging date means:

  • “Sell by” date tells the store how long to display the product, which means you should buy the product before the printed date.
  • “Best if Used Buy/Before” date means that is when the product will have the best flavor or quality until, it doesn’t include a safety date
  • “Use By” date is the last day recommended to use the product for the best quality, also doesn’t usually mean a safety date.

So, none of these common dates are referring to safety and instead are dates for sale or quality. Surprisingly, 91% of consumers occasionally throw away food based on the “sell by” date. Make sure that if it needs to be refrigerated, it quickly goes into a fridge kept at or below 40°F, or, if it goes in the freezer, make sure your freezer is kept below 0°F. The key to keeping food safe and reducing waste is to make sure you’re storing it correctly. Here are some common foods and how long they will really stay good for:

  • Eggs- Good for three to five weeks after the “best by” date
  • Condiments- Even after being opened, they usually last for several months past the “best by” date
  • Bread- usually only lasts for a week past the “use by” date, but if stored in the freezer in an air tight container it can last for about three months
  • Leftovers- When stored properly (in an airtight container in the fridge), they will usually stay good for about three days.

Hopefully this information can help you reduce food waste in your home!

It’s important to remember that if you have a food item that has an off-odor, flavor, or appearance, it’s probably time to throw it out. “When in doubt, throw it out.”

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