Figuring out food expiration date rules

Best by, sell by, use by

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Some studies show the average American family loses about $600 each year by tossing food that has gone bad.

Knowing just a few food rules, however, might help you save some of that dough.  The difference between expiration dates, sell by dates and best by dates can help you determine which foods will allow you a little wiggle room when it comes to eating something that may, on paper, seem expired.

"The sell by date is the date by which the store should sell that product based on it's quality, not based on food safety," said Chef Don Brizes, an associate professor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.

"The expiration date is generally the date by which you should use that product, in most cases," he added.

Brizes says an expiration date is not necessarily a hard and fast rule and provided a food is handled properly and is properly stored you may have two or three days after the expiration date where it will still be safe to eat.

It is especially important to note expiration dates on refrigerated, frozen and prepared foods.  With food you might store in a pantry there is a little more wiggle room.

Brizes says items sold in a can or pasteurized in a bottle or jar, like juices or pickles, have an indefinite shelf life.   When we showed him a cake mix with an expiration date of 2013 he said it would likely not be unsafe to eat it.  Again, provided it was stored properly and sealed up tight.

For more important information about food safety you can visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the FDA.

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