The Importance of Understanding Food Freshness Dating

1951 Eggs
photo credit: Ethan Prater

We’ve all seen the ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ dates on food. And we know there there to protect us from eating spoiled foods. But recently I learned a little more about these food dates and was surprised to find what all of it means.

These ‘freshness’ dates are on all kinds of food. We expect it on food that has to be refrigerated. Pantry foods, if you’re like me then you know that after awhile things can get stale so you toss ’em. But more and more food manufacturers are highlighting these freshness codes not only so your food is at its peak but also to protect themselves from liability.

You pretty much know when milk has gone bad. Especially if you’ve ever poured it over your last bits of cereal and ….. Well, let’s just leave it at we know when milk has gone bad. But what about foods that don’t really ‘go bad’ but have ‘use by’ or ‘sell by’ dates? I love the great deals on foods the store marks down b/c it’s nearing the end of it’s time on the shelves. But is that really a good idea. And a good use of money?

I thought I’d share with you what some of these food freshness terms mean so you’re able to make better decisions as to how you spend your money and whether something really is a great deal or will you need to eat the 10 boxes of food so quickly or else you’ll end up tossing ’em.

Sell by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Buy these product before the date expires. This date is for the retailer, so the store knows when to pull the item. Feel free to reach to the back and get the one with the farthest out date. The focus is quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is going to spoil soon.

Best if used by (or before)” date. This is a quality issue, not safety of the item. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. Sour cream, for instance, is already sour, but can have a fresher taste when consumed before this date.

Use by” date is the last date recommended for using the product at peak quality. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product.

If you can’t consume 45 boxes of pasta in a year, then don’t buy it just because its $0.25 or even free. Dry pasta only lasts about 12 months before it will start to taste stale and flat.

And those marshmallows that go on sale after the holidays that you’re thinking you’ll stock up on and save until next year? They only have a shelf like of about 10 months. So if you do buy them, just double check them before using them after any date printed on the package.

One item in my fridge has always intrigued me. Worcestershire sauce. I don’t use it a lot. It’s more of a product I use to make marinades. But a few years ago I got a pack from Costco. It’s only 3 of us. When am I going to use that much Worcestershire sauce? So I gave one bottle away and kept the other. ┬áThat stuff has one of the longest shelf lives! I’m not sure if I should ever use it again, though, because if it can last in the refrigerator up to 10 years I’m not sure if it’s really a sauce or an embalming fluid. It just weirded me out.

Almost every product now has some sort of coding or date on it. Keep them in mind when you’re shopping so you get the freshest foods possible. And, if you’re stocking up try to keep your oldest items toward the front so you don’t end up wasting money.

I hope you found this information to be helpful. Fresh foods taste best and we deserve it! Are you ever concerned about or keep an eye on food freshness dating?