SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Dr. Kim Mulvihill opened the KPIX 5 News refrigerator and proceeded to do what most of us do in the privacy of our own kitchens; she checked the dates of all the food products. She found an egg carton with a date from December 2012, milk that said “sell by” February 15th, and fresh orange Juice that was best if used by last week.

According to the USDA, food dates are tricky: whether it’s “sell by, use by” or “best if used by,” the calendar date listed on a food product is not a safety date:

These dates are one piece of information that can help consumers know when to use food at its best quality. Not only that; it’s a conservative date.

If the date expires at home, the food should be safe to eat if it’s handled properly and kept cold – 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Not storing or handling food properly can result in food poisonings.

A recent survey found three quarters of Americans make this mistake and believe once a date’s expired, they need throw it out.

That’s a waste of both food and money. Instead of depending on a date, use USDA storage charts and read the facts. On the charts, you’ll notice the storage time after purchase can vary dramatically according to the food and whether or not you’ve opened the package.

Depend upon your common sense. Fresh food is meant to perish. If your nose can tell its bad, or it tastes or looks funny, be in doubt and toss it out.

Another excellent source for the shelf life of both perishable and shelf stable foods are the online service “Shelf Life Advice“.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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