Turns Out Food Expiration Dates Are Pretty Worthless

Those timestamps have little to do with food safety

Sausage expiration date
Those expiration dates may not mean what you think they mean.
Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images
By Kirk Miller / April 16, 2020 11:53 am

As someone who’s previously played chicken (ha) with an expiration date on a carton of eggs — and lost — I’ve become a stickler for following that timestamp and dumping food the second it’s considered “bad.”

Turns out, I’ve been wrong. According to The New York Times, those dates have nothing to do with safety.

“Food product dating, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls it, is completely voluntary for all products,” reporter noted. That date is actually the manufacturer’s best guess as to when its product will no longer be at peak quality. And food manufacturers “tend to be rather conservative with those dates, knowing that not all of us keep our pantries dark and open our refrigerators as minimally as necessary.”

From there, it’s basically dividing your food into safety categories. You have your forever staples (spices, oils in sealed containers, vinegars, honey, vanilla, extracts, sugar, salt, corn syrup, molasses, instant oats), year-long shelf lives (baby food, refrigerated salad dressings, regular steel-cut or rolled oats, white flour, white refined rice, dried beans and lentils) and then things you should only keep for a few months (whole wheat flour, brown rice, tree nuts). Sadly, the report doesn’t talk about meats, though some people suggest it’s about one to five days “after” the use-by date.

As for packaged goods, the unwritten rule is that anything in metal lasts longer than glass … which lasts longer than plastic.

And the aforementioned eggs? Turns out something else might have set me off. The Julian date printed on each carton — the three-digit number ranging from 001 for Jan. 1 to 365 for Dec. 31 — represents the date the eggs were packed, which can be up to 30 days after the egg was laid, while the sell-by stamp can be up to another 30 days after the pack date. Overall, that’s approaching 60 days and that’s not even the potential end date.

“Odds are good that they’ll still be palatable for several weeks longer than that,” You’ll run out of hoarded toilet paper before those eggs go bad.”

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