We’ve all been there before. The sell by date on the unopened milk in the fridge reads yesterday. Or the best if used by date on that carton of eggs is last Tuesday.
At times like these you may have felt tempted to pretend you just didn’t see the sell by date and pour a glass of milk anyway. Or throw caution to the wind and make that omelet you’ve been craving.
But if you’re like most folks, in the end you decided you just couldn’t risk it and you watched your hard earned cash go down the drain right along with the milk
But just how much of a risk is it to use a food past it’s sell by date or best if used by date?
Let’s take a closer look…
Decoding the dates on food packaging
You’ve probably noticed these three different kinds of dates on food packages before:
- Sell by date
- Best if used by date
- And use by date
The most important thing to understand about each of them is what they aren’t. They aren’t an indication of when a food becomes unsafe to eat.
In other words, foods don’t suddenly become spoiled on any of these dates. In fact, they can still be perfectly edible for some time after. (I’ll have more details on this in just a moment.)
Which means there’s no need to automatically throw food away when they reach a sell by or best if used by date. It may be fine to drink that glass of milk or eat that omelet.
What’s the difference between sell by, use by & best by dates?
There are some subtle differences between what these dates tell us…
The “sell by” date:
You shouldn’t see a sell by date as an expiration date that tells you when a food must be thrown away. In fact, this date isn’t really intended to be used by consumers at all. The sell by date is placed on the package for the benefit of grocery stores. It informs the stores when they should pull the product from their shelves.
In other words, while you should buy food by the sell by date, the food doesn’t have to be eaten by then.
Best if used by and use by dates:
The best if used by and use by dates are essentially the same thing. In both cases the date listed is the last day you’re guaranteed the food will be at its best.
After the date has passed the quality may begin to decline. For example the color may start to fade or ingredients may begin to separate. But it doesn’t mean the food is suddenly unsafe to eat.
How long can you eat food after a sell by date has passed?
How long a food can be eaten after a sell by date depends on a variety of things such as the conditions it has been kept in and what kind of food it is.
But luckily there are some general guidelines that can help you decide if the food in your own fridge is still good to eat.
Typically eggs are good for 3 to 5 weeks after you bought them. Eggs are a perfect example of the sell by date coming and going and the food still being perfectly good to eat. American’s should be sure to keep their eggs refrigerated
to protect against salmonella.
In general, chicken is good 1 to 2 days after the sell by date. Make sure it’s refrigerated as soon as you get home. Ideally, you should use or freeze chicken within a day or two after you buy it.
Beef, pork, or lamb, whole cuts (uncooked):
Usually beef, pork and lamb are good for 3-5 days after the sell by date. Make sure to put your meat in the refrigerator as soon as you arrive home. Ideally, you should use it or freeze it within a day or two after you buy it.
Ground beef or ground chicken/turkey:
In general ground beef, turkey or chicken are good for 1 to 2 days after the sell by date. Once again, make sure the meat is refrigerated as soon as you arrive home from the store. Ideally, use or freeze ground meats within a day or two after you buy it.
Typically milk is good for 1 week after a sell by date. Once you’ve opened it always give it a quick sniff test before using. It’s good until it isn’t good any longer.
In general yogurt is good for 7 to 10 days after the sell by date has passed. As with milk, once it’s opened, sniff it to be sure it still smells fresh.
How do you KNOW if food is still good?
The best way to tell if food is still good is to trust your senses. Food that has spoiled usually smells and looks spoiled. If in doubt simply throw it out.
The sell by dates and use by dates can serve as signposts, but in the end let your common sense guide you.