Extension Enlightenment: What exactly does an expiration date mean?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

I’m back in the writing seat today and much like many others, this pandemic has turned life upside down.

In the Extension world, this has meant strategizing how to continue to provide education to our communities, developing multiple plans for the 4-H fair, while teleworking. As a first time agent, this seems to make my job increasingly interesting, but I keep reminding myself that we are all in this together, and I am very grateful for those individuals working on the front lines of this pandemic, and I hope we are nearing the end of this social distancing phase. I’m ready to see people face to face and hold those conversations that I took for granted before this pandemic began.

As Extension agents, we are here to provide research-based non-biased information to our local communities. Many of the questions I have received during this time have been surrounded around expiration dates, as well as the occasional Instant Pot question. What do all those dates on canned goods mean anyway? We often think that once it reaches that date, it automatically should be thrown away. However that is not always the case. Many, not all, of those dates are for “quality” purposes, but are still safe to consume.

For instance, if a canned, frozen or cereal product has a “best if used by” or “use before” date on them, this indicates when the food is no longer at its best, but is still safe for consumption.

A “sell-by” date on dairy or fresh bakery products indicates the last day the product should be sold in stores. This date allows the consumer a reasonable length of time to use the food.

For instance, milk, if kept under 40 degrees, is still acceptable to consume one week after the sell by date. These labels are especially different for perishable products such as our meats, the “use by” date on a package of chicken or ground beef should be followed, and your meats should be refrigerated and used within one to two days of the purchase date, or frozen if you are unable to use by that time.

The “expiration” or “use by” date on yeast, eggs, or unbaked bread is a date that should be followed and not be consumed after that date; same for your baby foods and formula to guarantee safety for your child. Those are the very common “expiration” dates to consider when cleaning your pantry, fridge or cupboards.

Always remember, especially if you aren’t completely sure, when in doubt throw it out! It’s not worth the risk of consuming a product that could potentially make you sick.

If you have any questions around these items, please do not hesitate to call your local extension office, we are happy to help. Extension agents around the state conducted weekly webinars over the noon hour each day of April, and will be continuing this into May. The topics are of a wide variety, but are great information.

You can find these webinars on our Facebook page: Stillwater County Extension, or contact the Extension Office and we can include you on our mailing list for these webinars. Have a wonderful rest of your week!

A “sell-by” date on dairy or fresh bakery products indicates the last day the product should be sold in stores. This date allows the consumer a reasonable length of time to use the food.