How Are Expiry Dates on Food Determined?
There’s no blanket process for setting expiry or expiration dates. Instead, food manufacturers and retailers determine these dates as they see fit. They may take many factors into consideration. They’ll think about the characteristics of the particular food as well as its packaging. The temperature at which the food will be stored is also an important factor.
Most of the time, food is safe to eat after its expiration date, as long as it doesn’t show other signs of spoiling. In fact, most expiration dates aren’t meant to be the date on which food will go bad. Instead, they’re meant to be general guidelines for how long items will maintain their quality.
In most cases, food will smell and taste bad if it’s spoiled. Many items will also look different if they’ve gone bad. Spoiled foods might grow mold or change colors. If any of these signs are present, the food should not be eaten. Many people misunderstand expiration dates. They throw out food after the printed date without looking for any signs of spoilage. This is a major contributor to the issue of food waste.
Experts estimate that Americans throw out 30-40 percent of the food they buy. Of course, some food waste is due to food actually going bad. However, properly checking food for spoilage instead of relying on expiration dates helps people cut back on waste.
That carton of milk sitting in the refrigerator is still usable for up to a week after its printed expiration date. And the same goes for many other foods, especially those that are canned or frozen. When it comes to food safety, trust your senses!
What’s the difference between best before and expiry date? Expiration dates tell consumers the last day a product is safe to consume. Best before date on the other hand tells you that the food is no longer in its perfect shape from that date. It may just lose its freshness, taste, aroma or nutrients. It does not necessarily mean that the food is no longer safe to eat.
Best before date is basically a quality indicator. Another term that gets mixed up with this is the ‘use by’ date which applies only to perishable goods such as fresh fish or meat. Dispose them off immediately once they have passed the ‘use by’ date.
An expired ‘best before’ date does not trigger a sales ban. In the food and beverage trade, products that are close to or have already passed its ‘best before’ date are usually given price reduction in order to boost sales. However, it’s important to remember the best-before date applies only to unopened items. Once food is exposed to air, the chance of contamination increases, so regardless of the best-before date, that half-empty jar of salsa at the back of your fridge is not invincible against unfriendly microbes.
The only items with strict expiry dates are infant formulas, meal replacements, formulated liquid diets used for oral or tube feeding, and nutritional supplements. These items should not be sold or eaten after the indicated date has past. Packaged products with a shelf-life greater than 90 days — like canned foods, dry goods (rice, pasta, and dried beans) and frozen food — don’t need a best-before date, but may still include one. Those year-old crackers and potato chips probably won’t make you sick, they’ll just taste a bit stale.