Expiration dates can be confusing because they have different meanings based on their phrasing. These dates are usually placed on products as a guide so stores know how long to keep a product for sale. They aren’t an indicator of the product’s safety. In fact, with the exception of baby formula, federal law does not require expiration dates.
So is it safe to eat food after the expiration date? According to registered dietitian and South Dakota farmer, Charlotte Rommereimpeople should use their best judgement.
“The food should be safe after the ‘sell by,’ ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ date if it has been handled in a safe manner,” explained Rommereim. “However, the quality of that food may not be as good as if you had eaten it by the date given.”
Here’s a quick look at different food dating phrases and their meanings according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
Sell By Date
This indicates how long stores should display products. You should purchase this product before the indicated date, but feel free to consume after the date has passed.
Best If Used By Date
This is the date recommended for best flavor or quality. These foods may still be safe after the indicated date, but likely won’t taste as fresh.
Use By Date
Similar to the Best if Used By, the Use By date shows the last date recommended for consuming the product at peak quality. Foods may still be safe to eat after the indicated date.
While these dates aren’t directly linked to food safety, we do recommend examining your food for off flavor, appearance or smells before cooking or consuming. Always remember to store your foods at proper temperatures and wash hands before and after handling food.
Looking for more food safety tips? We have the 4-1-1 on how long to store foods and leftoversin the fridge.