- Published on Wednesday, 22 April 2015 09:28
Sell by, use by, freeze by: How do you intepret the language of food expiration? Do the dates mean you may make yourself sick if you eat something after it's expired? Sharpen your food safety smarts by learning the truth about these dates.
Part of being a smart shopper is checking the expiration date on food packages. But if you meticulously check food packaging for printed dates, you may be surprised to find out that with the exception of baby food and infant formula, food expiration dates are really only guidelines to help you buy food at optimal freshness.
Food labeling is not required by federal law. Only about 20 states require it, and there is no consistent standard, and no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation to define what the package is telling you.
However, there are still government agencies that work to protect food quality and food safety. They include the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are many divisions within the various agencies, each with specific areas of responsibility to safeguard the food supply. The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, for instance, manages information and regulations that affect food safety and the quality of meat, poultry, and egg products. It also provides information about how food labeling could relate to the quality of those products.
All of these agencies continually work to improve food safety. Thanks to the recent passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA will place more emphasis on preventing food-borne illnesses rather than responding to outbreaks after the fact, which will hopefully lower the number of FDA recalls that need to be instituted after problems are discovered. More effort is also being made to educate consumers. Though FDA recalls are usually reported through news outlets, there is a special FDA recalls Web page that you can go to at any time on your own to check for alerts.
The Language of Food Labeling
When you're staring at the digitized date on a package, however, you're probably not thinking about the actions of all these government groups. You just want to know if the food in your hands is safe to eat.
"It is confusing because there is no standardization in packaging dates," acknowledges food safety expert Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, adjunct associate professor of hotel, restaurant and institution management at Iowa State University in Ames.
To help clarify the wording of food expiration dates printed on packages, here is a glossary of common labeling terms:
- "Sell by." This date gives you tips on what's cheap as well as food safety information. "Sell by" labeling is more for the grocer than it is for the consumer. "Consumers are fine to purchase products by this date," says Strohbehn. "Generally stores will discount closer to this date so consumers looking for a bargain can purchase up to the sell date and then use as soon as possible." Use refrigerated products within the next day or so; frozen goods can be stored in your freezer for up to three months.
- "Use by." "Use by" and "Best if used by" are intended to assure consistent food quality, says Strohbehn. This type of dating provides guidance to the consumer, but the guidelines are somewhat loose. Products can last longer than the "use by" date, depending on how the product is handled and stored. "Some canned goods will keep for years if there haven't been wide temperature fluctuations. Higher-acid products like canned pineapple have a shorter shelf life, but are still good for a year or longer," says Strohbehn. Infant formula and baby food are significant exceptions to this rule: It is best not to give your baby formula or food after the "use by" date.
- "Freeze by." Occasionally foods will be labeled "use or freeze by," which means that you can freeze them for a period of time after that date.
What Food Expiration Dates Mean for Food Safety
The reality is that you can eat food past the food expiration date and it might still taste good — or it might not. For example, milk may sour around the expiration date or a few days afterwards, depending on how cold your refrigerator is. The risk of food-borne illness also increases after that date, especially if your storage conditions are less than optimal.
Practicing good food safety habits at home will help food last safely up to, and beyond, the date on the label. One of the most important food safety parameters is temperature. For example, canned goods in a pantry that stays consistently cool all year round will last longer than canned goods stored in a location where temperatures fluctuate between hot and cool. Likewise, frozen foods stored in a freezer will last longer if the freezer is not opened often, which causes temperature changes. Humidity is also a concern — try to keep all storage areas dry, with low humidity.
Here are more food safety tips that will help your foods exceed expiration dates and ensure that you stay healthy:
- Refrigerate foods at 40° F immediately. Food safety experts recommend planning your day so that you can take groceries home to the refrigerator right away, instead of letting them sit in the car while you run other errands.
- Don't keep refrigerated foods out of the fridge for more than two hours.
- Keep ready-to-eat foods separate from those that are raw and need cooking.
- If a food product only has a "sell by" date or no food expiration date at all, cook or freeze the item as soon as possible.
- Make sure prep areas and storage areas in your kitchen are clean.
- If you or someone in your household is immune-compromised, be sure to eat foods by the "use by" date, advises Strohbehn. To do otherwise isn't worth the risk of food-borne illness.
Food safety may actually have more to do with the habits you have at home than with the dates on the packaging, but if you want safe foods at their best, use the printed expiration dates as your starting point.
- Published on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 13:07
A major study of men’s sperm found that those who ate regular quantities of fruit and vegetables that had pesticide residue on them had half the sperm count of men who ate less.
The Harvard University study, the first of its kind on the issue, analyzed sperm samples from 155 men who attended a fertility clinic during 2007-2012, Reuters reported. The men involved were attending a fertility clinic because they and their partners were unable to conceive, and were asked about the food they ate, including how often they ate fruit and vegetables like apples, avocados or cantaloupe.
- Published on Thursday, 26 March 2015 09:44
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has asked service providers under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to continue to accept patients with NHIS cards as it is still in the process of finding ways of reimbursing them.
This followed a meeting in Accra yesterday involving the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Victor Asare Bampoe; the Director General of the GHS, Dr Ebenezer Appiah Denkyira; the chief executives of the various teaching hospitals, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) and the Society of Private Medical and Dental Practitioners.
- Published on Friday, 27 March 2015 11:51
The Greater Accra Regional Health Directorate is cautioning the public against an imminent threat of cholera and other infectious diseases in the region.
According to the Regional Health Directorate the onset of the rains coupled with poor sanitary conditions might trigger another cholera outbreak.
- Published on Thursday, 26 March 2015 09:41
If Ghanaians have been appalled by the conditions at the nation’s biggest slum, Sodom and Gommorah, then they will certainly be shocked by the spectacle of mounting refuse and an emerging ghetto in the heart of the thriving Mallam Market at Dansoman.
The Mallam Market is well-known but the prevailing condition is securely shielded from the public by the ever-rising canopies of traders who have pitched their tents close to the main Mallam-Kaneshie highway at Mallam junction.