‘Best by dates’ – what they really mean

You know, those various dates stamped on packages have been a business boon for food manufacturers. Because most Americans don’t understand those numbers, hundreds of thousands of pounds of food get thrown away every day. So much money is wasted. Then there are those of us who do use foods way past the magical date on the package, much to the horror of those around us. Having a little understanding of these dates and how they work can make us and our family feel a little more reassured.
To begin with, let’s take a look at the various terms.
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11 Responses to ‘Best by dates’ – what they really mean

  1. Nemo says:

    Unless item is perishable, I don’t bother looking at the dates on foods that I have in the pantry.

  2. Heck, if the ‘best by’ dates were the same as ‘safe to eat’ then everybody on The Walking Dead would be… dead.

  3. Tsgt Joe says:

    I have a daughter in law who is so weird on the subject she won’t eat stuff that is near the “use by” date. I’m so disorganized that we regularly find food that’s gone by the “use by” date, we have never poisoned ourselves. I have noted that stuff that’s a couple years beyond the date often tastes different.

    • kimh81 says:

      my son is a freak about those damn dates – nothing is kept if the date has passed – smdh

    • arc says:

      The only dates I’m stingy about are the dates on dairy products and products containing dairy. Everything else probably doesn’t spoil, except maybe metal canned pineapple juice.

  4. Sanders says:

    Well, if you have coconut water, that “use by” date is pretty much right on. Don’t ask me how I know.

  5. BrassG says:

    Ambulance rides are expensive. If saving $1.50 on a can of expired beanie weenies sounds like a good risk-to-reward calculation to you, have at it. For myself, I’ve had severe food poisoning (the hospitalization variety) and have no intention of repeating that horrid experience. I’ll keep throwing away food that’s past its expiration date, thanks. Leftovers get seven days in the fridge and they’re out. I’m not that hard up for cash.

    • arc says:

      SEVEN DAYS!?! I don’t eat it passed three days and it might stay in there for five before its thrown out. There is a pretty distinct texture / smell change to food once its in that ‘ripening’ process.

    • Aesop says:

      As someone who ate vintage Vietnam-era beanie weenies, or their C-rat equivalents, well into the early 1980s courtesy of Uncle Sam, and with no ill effects other than they tasted crappy originally, you might want to reconsider your policy.

      Leftovers are leftovers, and a week is fine. Even more so for “fresh” items.

      But stuff that’s canned pre-cooked, stored properly (cool/dry), and non-acidic*, as noted in the article, can last on the shelf for a decade and more without even breaking a sweat.
      That was always the point of canning since the 1800s.

      All you’re doing by throwing stuff out before its wholly imaginary “expiration date” is burning up your own money. It’s a marketing gimmick, not any sort of rule informed by science nor bound by regulation. Manufacturers do it because in general, people are stupid and easily misinformed.

      Having Depression-era parents, we routinely had 6 months’ food in canned goods in the pantry, and there were perfectly good cans on the shelves that were 3-5 years old, even with regular rotation, and got served up all the time.

      Also bear in mind that due to a bad year for hogs, China has seen a 100% rise in pork prices, and beef and chicken are also up 50% this year. Apply that information to what happens if something happens to our economy, and/or food gets a wee bit scarce for you. Like next year, when the results of this year’s floods and worst crop in decades start showing up at the grocery checkout aisle.

      If a can isn’t bulging out, leaking, or corroded, and the contents smell and look edible when opened, they’re going to be what they were when they were canned. At prices from one to several years ago.

      It’s your wallet.

      *(And even that is up for grabs, as formerly cans were just metal, but for some years have been packed using plastic liners, and plastic-lined metal lids on the glass jars, that wipe out the acidic spoilage problem almost entirely as well.)

  6. Gryphon says:

    I found out recently that ‘canned goods’ are no longer ‘good forever’ and I suspect that it has to do with the quality of the Cans themselves… I keep a 10-12 month supply of Food most of the time, Canned Goods and Dry stuff like Beans, Rice, Pasta. “Rotation” is slow, as I don’t use much of it except during the Wintertime, so the Canned stuff can become 3-4 Years old. This had never been an issue until recently, when I opened a box of Soup Cans to put in the cabinet- found a number of them that were Leaking, very slightly, and had lost Vacuum when opened. They were not obviously Rotting (yet) but to be safe, I trashed the lot (approaching 4 Years in storage) The next couple of Boxes (each with 32 Cans) had the same problem, cans beginning to Leak. I spent some Time investigating, opening dozens of them and emptying the contents, looking for some reason they went Bad… All of the Cans that had no Vacuum or were leaking had definite signs of Rust on the Interior of them.

    This is in contrast to how most Steel Cans could be counted on for a Decade of storage (or more, when I was in Grade School in the ’60s ‘backyard camping’ in the Woods behind the subdivision was not complete without some Army-Surplus “C-Rations” to eat… many of these were from WWII, early ’40s Dates on the Boxes. Nobody got Sick from them, although Nobody had the nerve to eat the ‘Screaming Yellow Death’, or Scrambled Eggs and Ham.)

    Even considering the Mil-Spec Cans and Process must have been higher than commercial standards for the same products, it has only been recently that I have seen Cans Failing at less than 5-8 Years old. Something to think about if you are storing a lot of Canned Foods….

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