Expiry dates specified on foods determine shelf-life and quality. Products that exceed the expiry date, exhibit changes in color, texture, smell and taste. The dates are not an indicator for freshness or safety. How you store and use-after-purchase at home is more important. Refrigerate and store foods in the right way to prevent premature food discarding/food wastage.
Grocery shopping is usually fun. That is unless you don’t have to worry about the nitty-gritty details. One of those pertains to the expiry date. When you take a closer look at the print on the bottom or the side of the food product, you will notice the words – “Use Before” or “Best Before” or something that is similarly worded.
What Is The Purpose Of An Expiry Date?
‘Food product dating’ is a date that determines the shelf-life of the product. The customer buying it can be aware of whether he needs to purchase it or not. While the ‘food product date’ is not necessarily a guarantee for safety, it can be a cautionary note to obvious product changes such as color, texture and smell. Other times, the food just looks lackluster.
The important thing to note about food expiration dates are that once the seal is broken or tampered with, the food item may not even last until the specified expiry date. Certain perishable foods like meat, vegetables, eggs and dairy products get spoilt when they are constantly exposed to air or moisture. And some foods need to be refrigerated (deep freezed) until they can be used.
Usually when a food item exceeds its expiration date, the changes may or may not be so obvious. The USDA claims that while infant food/formula needs to be used well before the expiry date, other foods need not necessarily have an expiration date. “Closed” or “coded” dating might appear more on shelf-stable products like canned and boxed foods.
Expiry Date: Not A Guarantee For Safety
When it comes to the matters of food-expiry dates, one aspect must be emphasized: food dating is not a guarantee for microbial safety. Consumers are believed to trash billions of pounds of food every year due to the food expiration date labeling practices, resulting in 40 percent of food wastage. While the primary purpose of date labeling was to indicate freshness, it causes consumers to believe that these dates are indicators for food’s microbial safety which is wrong. As a result, food is prematurely discarded.
What Happens When Foods Are ‘Improperly Stored’
Besides expiry dates, storage and ‘use after purchase’ matter just as much. When stored properly, the quality and safety of those food items are retained. If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date. However, if there is no date specified, store it in the freezer, in an air-tight container or in a place devoid of moisture. Food borne bacteria and pathogens can cause food borne illness. Foods can also be contaminated when it is handled by people who don’t practice good sanitation.
As a customer, it is imperative that you follow the basic rules when purchasing food items such as:
- Buying a food item well before the expiry date.
- Taking extra care in case of perishables. Refrigerate immediately without delay.
- Frozen foods can usually be stored until the expiry date as they are relatively safe.
- Always follow the handling recommendations specified on the food products.