How Long Does the Food in Your Pantry Last?

Knowing what is good and bad about expiration dates

what is good and bad about expiration dates

Cutting coupons or saving money on food in the store is meaningless if you happen to throw it out anyway.  But if you are looking to save money and purchase in bulk, this doesn’t mean you must use it all up at once.  There is an expiration date on the packages and there is a way to read them.  (Most of the dates these days on food are plainly spoken on the package with a specific date.  However, some of them are still coded making it hard to tell when they expire.)  The dates can be confusing when they are encoded though, and different companies use different tactics to do so.  The law states that they must put a date on the package, but not how they do it, or where they put it.  I’ve listed some things for you to look for in your pantry and some things to consider before you start throwing away food.

Is your food safe to eat after the date listed?

The biggest question that people have is whether the food is safe.  In America, more than 40% of food is wasted, many times because it is left to expire before it is consumed.  What people fail to realize is that it is perfectly safe to consume the food after the date listed on the package.  The food itself is not going to hurt you, so long as it is not spoiled.  Spoiled food can make you sick, which is why it is suggested that you don’t eat it.  However canned food, doesn’t spoil as no air has entered the container since it was sealed.  Boxed food is generally sealed in plastic on the inside of the box, and like canned goods, no air has come in contact with the food since it was sealed.

Is your food safe to eat after the date listed?

Even though you might open some chips, crackers, cereal or whatever the box might contain, it doesn’t spoil.  It will get stale though since it has come in contact with air, but it is still safe to eat.  It won’t taste the same as opening the package up for the first time though.  Soup and other canned goods are safe to eat years past the date on the package.  Again, it might not taste the same, and the consistency will change if left that long, but because of the preservatives it is safe to eat.

There are some exceptions to the rule of course and that includes products that need to be stored in the fridge.  Milk for instance and anything that contains milk will spoil, but is generally good for up to three days past the date on the package.  It depends on when it was opened though.  As air hits a container such as ice cream, milk, and dairy products it changes it.  Mold, can grow after a certain time.  Milk though if left in the fridge unopened past the expiration date, can last up to three days once opened, so long as it is not already spoiled.

What to know about those codes on the package?

Each package of food, and these days this also includes deodorants, cold medicine, most hair products and even make-up, contains a date.  That date is listed in several different categories.  They will either have a Sell by Date, a Use by Date, or a Best by date on them.  The downside is that since there are no rules or regulations as to where on the package this must be, nor how it is listed, consumers are easily misled when it comes to reading the dates.  Some items will contain a lot code, or a Born Date instead of an actual expiration date.

A Lot code, which most products contain help the manufacturer identify product as it comes off the line of production.  Therefore, products that are recalled will have certain numbers to them for you to identify.  These have nothing to do with the expiration of the product but a way for the manufacturer to know which product is what, and from when.

Then there is product that is listed in a coded format called a Julian Code, which uses a Julian calendar to post the date.  It’s a bit deceiving at times but it will read as a five to six-digit number on the product.  Sometimes it contains a letter in it at the beginning or the end of the numbers.  Each number represents the month and day of the product, with the year generally listed at the end.  If you are unsure of your product, follow this link to a conversion chart.  All you need to do is type in the code and it will convert it to a date you can read.

There is also a born-on date which follows categories such as sodas and beers.  Not all of them, but Pepsi is one of them as is Straub which manufactures Budweiser and many other beer brands, use this date.  This is the date that the product was produced, with anywhere from a three month to a six-month shelf life.  Look for the words Born Date on them to be sure, otherwise you could be purchasing an expired product.

What to know about those codes on the package?

Last there are the more obvious codes which can still be a little confusing to some.  A Best Buy date is something that tells you the food will taste the best if you use it by this date.  Stores will reduce the price or pull it from the shelf after this date has passed.  A Sell By date means that a company can no longer sell that product after that date.  They must pull it from the shelf, even if the product might still be good.  It then gets sent back to the manufacturer or damaged out of the store.  (Thrown away) Then there is the use by date on packages which is rarer to find these days.  This is the last day you can safely use the product with no guarantees on results after that date.

Depending on what taste you like, and whether you want to eat food that is past the date or not, knowing the information that the food is not going to hurt you can change the way you think.  Many times, you could be eating the expired product, and would be eating it until you looked at the date anyway.  To avoid this, only purchase food you and your family are going to eat.  Check your pantry often and be mindful of dented cans, broken package and tears or rips in the packaging.

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