Decoding expiration dates
Not every date you see on your food is an expiration date. Here are four common dates you may see in the grocery store and what they really mean, according to Business Insider:
Sell-by date: How long the store has to display the product
Use-by date: When manufacturer thinks the product will be at its peak quality
Best before date: The best date for flavour and quality
Closed by date or coded dates: The packing number that the manufacturer uses
None of these are expiration dates nor do they indicate whether food is safe to eat or not. In fact, the FDA allows manufacturers to sell almost any food past these dates, with baby formula being the exception. What’s more, manufacturers aren’t required to put any of these dates on their food; the decision is totally up to them.
That being said, looks and smells can sometimes be deceiving (taking a whiff of the milk carton is not an exact science), which is why those expiration dates stamped on the packaging can guide you in the right direction and help prevent illness. From creamy cheeses to sandwich staples, it’s best to toss these foods once they’re past their given expiration date unless you want to roll the dice on an extra sick day.
A full carton of eggs has a little more leeway than their boxed substitutes, but both should be consumed in a timely manner. If you’re debating whether to finish off that two-week-old carton of whites—don’t. “It’s very safe to keep eggs in the refrigerator for three to five weeks if they’re raw and in the shell. For egg substitute products, you have about three to five days on average once they’re open. If they’re unopened you have about 10 days,” says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Check out these 10 “facts” about eggs that are an absolute yolk.
Harder cheeses like cheddar or gouda have a longer shelf life because it’s more difficult for bacteria and mold to permeate them. Once opened, hard cheeses may last up to six months in the refrigerator, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, softer cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese, or goat cheese, are more susceptible to mold and bacteria and should be tossed at the first sign of spoiling or once the expiration date has passed, whichever comes first. As a general rule of thumb, softer cheeses last about one week in the refrigerator after opening.