Breaking Down: Expiry Dates

Expiry dates are one of the most controversial topics among the members of a household and the leaders of multibillion dollar corporations and businesses. A common topic of discussion, these dates can be warped to whatever standards the user desires them to be. This is because the user doesn’t know how to use these dates. All the unwritten laws, informal courtesies are useless, and it comes down to the facts.

The three types of expiration dates are “Sell-By” dates, “Best If Used By” dates, and simply “Use-By” dates. All three of these dates are important, but they cannot be used interchangeably, as the latter two commonly are.

First, let’s break down the “Sell-By” dates. This has the largest range of what is socially acceptable. Grocers typically put these food items out from a week to just one day before these dates. Baked goods, produce, and items that are considered fresh are usually sold with these dates. Think about it like this. If a cookie is made on Monday, then it is best on that Monday. The baker would probably want to empty out the storage, so the Sell-By date could be that same Monday. If a customer buys this, the choice falls into their hands. They could eat the fresh cookie on Monday, when the quality would be the best, or they could wait a few days, while the quality diminishes. This is where the human’s first dilemma occurs. Should they be able to wait for as long as the cookie can go before it becomes inedible, or should they consider the expiration date as the date when the cookie loses it’s fresh taste? Bakers use the “Sell-By” tactic so that the decision falls into the customers hands. Fresh produce without preservatives should be used up as soon as possible, within 5 days of purchasing. Baked goods can last up to a week, but quality goes down over time.

The next expiration date we need to tackle are the “Best If Used By” dates. These aren’t merely a suggestion, because all foods do expire. These dates are used for foods that can vary a lot in flavor, quality, or preservation. Canned foods are a good example. The shelf life of these foods can be extremely high, sometimes up to 10 years! But this also means that the margin of error has more of an impact. A 20% margin of error for a 5 day expiry date is just a give or a take of 1 day. But in 10 years, this margin of error could mean that your food goes bad a whole two years too early! Make sure to research the foods that you are planning on keeping for a long time, because you want to use them before they go bad.

Finally, the “Use-By” dates. These are the most strict and common dates. Used on dairy products, most processed foods, and others. For dairy products such as milk, it is best to stay close to the Use-By date. For yogurt and butter, the food is going to be okay to consume for at least a week after the date, given proper storage methods are in use. For frozen dairy items, there is more freedom. Freezing foods is the most effective way to keep foods normal for extended periods of time, so common sense is the best tool to use. Start avoiding frozen food if ice forms on it, it assumes an irregular color, or if it maintains a strong smell while in the freezer.

The lesson of this post is to only buy food that will be eaten. There is no point ignoring expiration dates when they exist solely for the purpose of the betterment of the customers health. And remember, the fragile foods which last for a short period of time contain the least preservatives, and these are the healthiest foods you can go for!

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