What Those “Sell By” Dates On Your Groceries Really Mean

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Credit Ecstatic Mark/Flickr

Credit Ecstatic Mark/Flickr

The fridge can be an intimidating place, especially when trying to decipher those “Sell By” and expiration dates. What do they really mean? Does your food suddenly go bad a day after the “Use By” date has passed?

According to Business Insider, 9 out of 10 Americans throw out food before it has actually gone bad. That’s $165 billion of food thrown in the garbage. Most are scared of spoiled eggs and milk or rotting meat. But in reality, that fear is unfounded. Those “Sell By” dates on food are actually meant for the grocers. It tells them how long they should keep food on the shelves. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants people to know that those dates are not the same as safety dates.

Those “Sell By” and expiration dates are actually voluntary. Most food gets tossed way before it even comes close to going bad. But Americans have bought into the hype, scared off of their perfectly good food by warnings of salmonella and worse. In actuality, properly stored food can last quite a bit longer than what the “Sell By” date suggests.

Often the “Sell By,” “Use By,” and “Guaranteed Fresh By” dates refer to the food being at it’s best quality, not that it will suddenly go bad a minute passed the date listed. Even eggs can survive, if stored correctly, weeks passed that “Sell By” date.

The USDA does recommend purchasing food before its “Sell By” date expires. Make sure to properly store food as soon as possible after the purchase to contain freshness. “Sell By” and expiration dates are usually null once food is frozen, which locks in the freshness. And these rules do not apply across the board.

Medication expiration dates do matter. Once their date passes, the potency, safety, and purity of the drug can longer be assured.

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