The most meticulous consumer would be the one who would check the dates at the bottom of every product when he or she goes for grocery shopping.
And, believe us, it’s a compliment!
How many times have you carelessly bought expired foodstuff and thus had to take a trip back to the supermarket to return it? That’s okay, the supermarket was supposed to be conscientious enough not to be selling expired products anyway.
On the other hand, there are those who trust their sharp olfactory senses to warn them about the doubtful cheese in the fridge. That may not seem as smart as keeping the expiry dates in mind – though that too can be bothersome, with so many terms on the cover to confuse one.
There is, of course, the standard ‘Expiry Date’. Besides this, there are some other commonly spotted terms –
• The ‘Sell by’ date – This labeling is for the retailers to instruct them on how long to display the particular product for sale. The product should definitely be bought before the expiry of the date. This is basically to let the shopkeeper know when to pull the item from the shelves. This is not compulsory, so reach in back and get the freshest.
The important thing to note is if the quality of the product – its freshness, taste and consistency – is alright, rather when whether it is on the verge of spoiling. The ‘Sell by’ date is the last day the product will be in its best quality – though it will definitely still be edible for some time after.
• The "Best if used by (or before)" date – This again is concerned with the quality of the product, and not the safety. This date informs the consumer about its best flavour or quality, and has nothing to do with purchase or safety date. For instance, the lemon syrup will be sour anyway even before its “best before” date – just that it will taste fresher and zippier!
• "Born on" date – This refers to the date of manufacture and is usually used to date beer. Beer can expire in about three months. Light can cause the microorganisms in the beer to reactivate. Thus, beer in clear bottles is to be handled more carefully than those in green or brown bottles.
• "Guaranteed fresh" date – This date usually refers to bakery products. Still edible after the date – these products will however not be at the peak of their freshness.
• "Use by" date – This is the final date recommended for the use of the product while at highest quality. The date has been determined by the maker of the product.
• "Pack" date – Found on canned and packaged foods, this one can get a little tricky. The dating may be the MMDDYY format, or it could revert to the Julian calendar – in which case February could be 032-060 and December 334-365.
You are right, eating the food is definitely not as complicated as checking if it is edible. What is easy, though, is memorizing the natural expiry time limit of some common foods – some of which are –
• Milk – It is usually alright until a week after the "Sell By" date.
• Eggs – They are fine for about 3-5 weeks after you bring them home (assuming you bought them before the "sell by" date).
• Poultry and seafood – These foods need to be cooked or frozen within a day or two.
• Beef and pork – These meats must be cooked or frozen within three to five days.
• Canned goods - Highly acidic foods like tomato sauce can keep for more than a year and a half. Low-acid foods like canned green beans are perhaps risk-free till five years. Of course, you do not want to go storing canned foods in hot humid places.
Experts suggest keeping canned and dry food at 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in a dry, dark place. Moisture can be an issue in speeded-up deterioration. The taste, aroma, and appearance of food can change rapidly if the food comes in contact with a higher temperature or humidity.
• Buy the product before the date expires.
• If the product is perishable, take the food home immediately and refrigerate it. If you cannot use it within the time recommended on the chart, you can freeze it.
• The expiry date does not matter if you have frozen the food – because once frozen, they are safe indefinitely.
• It is wise to follow handling recommendations printed on the product cover.
Besides food, another really vital thing whose expiry dates can literally be a question of life and death is medicine. The drug manufacturers must test and establish the safety, potency and purity of the drugs over time. If the expiration date for a drug is given as a year and half, it means that as long as the drug has been stored properly – these three qualities can be assured for that long a period.
An expert advice is to keep one’s own date of purchase, even on canned goods. At the same time there is no need to be over-cautious and throw away good food, just because the date says so. In conclusion, it is definitely wise to stick to the dates on the product – though using one’s own senses (especially, the sniffing sort) to check on the food can be smart as well.
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