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Q: Is This Food Still Good?

Handy hints on when the food will spoil

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    We explore what those dates on food really tell you.

    It’s a question we’ve all asked, “Is this food still good?” While some foods have “best by,” “sell by,” or “use by” dates it’s often hard to tell if the milk will really make you sick.

    Part of the confusion is in the terminology. The “use by” dates on many medications should be considered a rule since many active ingredients in medicines could be ineffective after specified date. “Best by” dates, like on sodas, are more indicators of quality rather than safety and simply let consumers know that the food might not taste as good after that date.

    “Sell by” dates are another beast entirely. These dates are used by the store to know how long they should market the food. But how can consumers gage when food is unsafe using these dates? First, if you don’t consume the food by the “sell by” date, that doesn’t mean the food has magically gone bad overnight. In fact, in most cases, the food is still fresh for a few days after the "sell by" cut off point.

    Secondly, even if the “sell by” date hasn’t been reached, your food may still be in danger of spoiling. Meat, for example, is often in danger if it’s not stored at the right temperature. A good rule of thumb for fresh meat is to eat or freeze it within two days to keep the danger of spoilage or contamination to a minimum. Once the meat is in the freezer, though, you have about three months before the chuck should be chucked.

    Milk and dairy is an even harder decision to make, especially since milk can sour before spoiling. Most experts agree that milk can stay good for up to five days after the “sell by” date, but the old sniff test might bring up a sour odor even before “sell by.” A good suggestion is to pour out a small bit of milk for a better whiff before tossing the whole bottle – the crusty bits at the top of the jug might be the offending smell, instead of the liquid.

    Your pantry could be holding the long lasting foodstuffs. Unopened processed peanut butter can last for two years before being dangerous while unopened mayonnaise could last indefinitely.  Dangers can still lurk in the dark recesses, however – bulging canned goods could mean bacteria living inside, so make sure those hit the trash can and not your dinner plate.

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