Knowing Details on Dates

- News flash: The food in your fridge is dated for a reason.  Our friend Joan Gray-Soria from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has some advice on properly navigating those dates.

For example, the milk in your refrigerator has a "sell by" date of February 17, and it is now February 19. Is it still safe to drink? Yes, if it has been properly stored. So what do those dates on your perishable food actually mean?

What is dating?
Open Dating (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a date stamped on a product's package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. It is not a safety date.

 Types of Dates
 A Sell-By date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
 A Best if Used By (or Before) date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
 A Use-By date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
 Closed or coded dates are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

 Safety After Date Expires
Except for use-by dates, product dates don't always pertain to home storage and use after purchase. Use-by dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly.

If product has a use-by date, follow that date. If product has a sell-by date or no date, cook or freeze the product.

Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such characteristics, you should not use it for quality reasons.

If foods are mishandled, however, foodborne bacteria can grow and, if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness - before or after the date on the package. For example, if hot dogs are taken to a picnic and left out several hours, they will not be safe if used thereafter, even if the date hasn't expired.

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