Good Eating Monday: The Facts About Food Expiration Labels

This funny line from Pirates of the Caribbean about the Pirate Code being, "more like guidelines, then actual rules," is
basically the situation with food expiration labeling.
It's really just guidelines. Not rules.
 Most food products last long past these arbitrary dates.
First, FOOD expiration labeling has 2 general catagories:
The "Sell by" Date:
This date is JUST for stores & manufacturers. It's a guideline for them to know how long an item has been on display on the shelf for sale or kept in storage at the warehouse.
Having a item in your pantry or frig with an expired "sell by" date means nothing if you're not a grocery store.
Eggs will last 3 weeks past the sell-by date in your refrigerator. 
Milk lasts 3 to 5 days past the date, then once sour, can be used for baking cornbread, muffins, cakes, cookies or in any recipe calling for buttermilk.

The "Use by" or "Best Used By or Before" Dates
This date is just a suggestion by the manufacturer or packager as to what time period they think their product will most likely taste best. It's not a food safety thing at all.(And do keep in mind they have a vested interest in wanting us to buy more of their product)

Things Where the "Use by" Date Does Matter:
* It matters on Fresh Meat: Cook it within 2 days or freeze it immediately after purchase.
* Sensitive Fresh Produce, such as lettace.

Things that are generally fine, regardless of dates:
Condiments, Pickles, Dressings, anything containing vinegar.
Canned Goods.  
Jams, Jellies, Peanut Butter
Milk, cottage cheese (use the sniff test to tell when starting to sour)
 Hard cheeses (you can just cut mold off and still use.)
Hard skinned vegetables: carrots, winter squashes, peppers.
Cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes (bad spots or mildew can be just cut off.)
Chocolate chips, molasses, corn syrup, vinegars, cooking wine,
oils, baking soda, coconut, cooking chocolate, cocoa, salt, honey.
(if honey goes to sugar, just microwave it)
Most spices are good at least a year or longer (but some benefit in favor by replacing sooner)
Rice, Pasta, Cereals, Chips, Pretzels, Crackers, other dried goods.
 (though, once opened, cereals, crackers & chips can get stale.)
Anything frozen: veggies, frozen entrees, meat, shelled nuts.
Handy Guide for Keeping Meat in Freezer::
Cooked Poultry: 4 months
Cooked Meat: 2-3 months
Uncooked Poultry Parts (like thighs, breasts): 9 months
Uncooked Whole Poultry: 12 months
Uncooked Roasts: 4-12 months
Uncooked steaks or chops: 4-12 months
Uncooked ground meat: 3-4 months.

The 3 things I pay strict attention to "use by dates" on:
Baking Powder (because it stops working once old)
Yeast (because it's alive and can stop working if too old)
Creamed Horseradish (because I ate some once that was too old with terrible consequences!)
Eat up, me hearties, yo-ho!


PLdesign said…
Great and very useful article!
Unknown said…
Awesome. I had no idea I could bake with old milk!

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