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What Do All Those Expiration Dates on Food Mean?

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You have a hankering for a snack, so you go to the kitchen and decide to make a bowl of cereal. However, when you pull out the milk you notice the date on it says, “Best if used by June 5.” Today’s June 5! Should you throw out the milk? You pull the cereal and notice the package says “Sell by March 24 2007.” But the cereal still looks good, should you throw it out, too?

If you’ve ever been unsure what those mysterious dates on food mean, we’re going to clear that up for you today. By knowing exactly what the dates on food mean, you can avoid throwing out perfectly good food and thus save money on your groceries.

“Best if used by” or “use by”: This date is the last date the product is likely to be at peak flavor and quality. It doesn’t mean the food is unsafe after this date, so don’t be afraid to eat it.

“Sell by”: This is a date for the retailer of the last day on which the product can be sold. It takes into account time for the food to be stored and used at home. If you have food past the sell by date, you have plenty of time to use it before it goes bad. Also, if you find food past the sell by date on your grocer’s shelf, ask if you can get a discount on the product. They were probably just going to throw it away. It would be a shame to let perfectly good food go to waste.

Expiration” or “Exp”: For most foods, this indicates the last date on which they should be eaten. But use some common sense when deciding to toss food. If the milk still smells good a day after the expiration date, it’s still safe to drink.

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[tags] food