Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Use-By Dates, Sell-By Dates, Food Safety and Quality

There is a lot of confusion among consumers regarding the various dates found on food packages in Ohio.  Although many states do not require it, Ohio's food safety law requires that eggs, shellfish, babyfood, and packaged, perishable food be labeled with a date if it has a shelf life less than 30 days.  Also, many food manufacturers put dates on their packaging because they think consumers will find it helpful.  There is no question that a lot of food is wasted because of the confusion over what these dates mean relative to the food safety and quality. One estimate by a food safety expert with NSF, Interational (a public health and safety organization based in Michigan) is that about $161 billion of food is wasted annually due to people throwing out food when it reaches the "sell-by" date.

This interesting graphic and a related article appeared in the Columbus, Ohio, newspaper "The Dispatch" on March 10, 2015. These guidelines are for refrigerated, perishable foods (fresh, uncooked) with a "Sell By" date or no date. (Products with a "use-by" date should be consumed by that date for safety.)

The article states that canned food will last indefinitely due to the heating and canning process creating a sterile environment within the can.   This absence of any air or bacteria would provide a safe product for many years although there may be some slight changes in the quality or appearance. Another fact stated in the article is that, for sell-by-dated foods, usually about a third of the product's shelf life still remains after that date.  One caveat to keep in mind; however, is that if there were any period of time during which the product had been improperly handled, such as wrong temperature, then the food quality or safety could be much less than expected based on the date.

Here is the link to the article http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/food/2015/03/11/serve-or-pitch.html

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