What Do Expiration Dates Mean

Picture this. You wake up in the morning to go downstairs to prepare your meals for the day only to see that your food is past the expiration dates.

What do you do?

Interestingly, experts did the math and estimate that $165 billion worth of perfectly edible food gets tossed each year. It comes out to be 40% of all food made in the Unites States being trashed. This is all due to it passing its expiration date.

Is that not alarming to you? People are starving around the world and we are wasting food. Some people may not have a problem throwing it away but I do. I respect your decision either way but I want to teach you what different expiration dates mean.

"Sell by", "Used by" or "Best by"

We see these on every food product. But I have noticed that many people do not know what they mean.

"Sell by" refers to purchasing the item prior to the date that's listed.
“Best if used by/before” dates show when the product will have optimal taste and quality.
“Use by” dates tell you the last day the food will be at its top quality.

What people fail to realize is the USDA also notes that it’s okay to eat these foods past the dates on the packaging. It is our job to make sure that the package is intact and the item looks fresh. The only exception is infant formula, as the USDA advises parents to not buy or even use baby formula once the “use by” date rolls around.

So how long does food last then? It differs from food to food. I'll cover the top 5 foods I get questions about.

The USDA advises you that you can leave it in a refrigerator for one to two days after purchase. Research supports that you can leave chicken in the freezer for nine months. Cooked chicken depends on storage conditions. The best way is to smell and look at the chicken. Signs of bad cooked chicken will be a sour smell and slimy texture. Please throw it away if your chicken looks or smells bad. Do not taste it to see if it is bad.

The USDA advises consumers to pay attention to the “use by” date and not the “sell by” date. You can keep beef in the freezer for six to twelve months, and it will remain top quality. Beef will also stay good for three to five days after you bought it.

Eggs are a pretty controversial food group. If eggs simply have a “sell by” date, research shows that you can store them for three to five weeks.

Milk should be refrigerated and it will generally remain drinkable for about one week after the “sell by” date on the package. It is time to toss your milk if it is grainy, has a sour smell, shows an off white color, or thick and clumpy texture.

If you purchase refrigerated yogurt you can keep it for about 7 to 10 days after the “sell by” date. If you freeze the yogurt, you can get one to two months out of it. Opened yogurt will taste optimal for five to seven days after it’s opened. Yogurt should be thrown out if you see a watery consistency, a clumpy texture, and a sour smell. If you see mold, throw out the whole package.

Those cover foods that I commonly get questions about. It is your duty to make smart choices at the grocery store. Here are some principles I like to follow that have helped me over the years.

1. Don't buy more than you can eat in a given time frame. You can always go back to the store if you need a little extra. 
2. Plan your grocery list out ahead of time. It will cut out mindless shopping which leads to food being thrown out. 
3. Set a budget at the store so you don't exceed it. This will cut out buying 'extra' that you probably didn't need in the first place.