By Patrice Powers-Barker, OSU Extension, Lucas County
The Truth Contributor
What’s today’s date? What are the dates on the food items
in your refrigerator or pantry? Americans throw out a lot
more food than they expect to throw out. One of many
reasons for this might be in part because of unclear date
labels on food packages. What do those dates and phrases
First, let’s start with food safety. Food safety is an
important topic for all people, although there are a few
groups of people who are at higher risk of food poisoning.
These groups include children younger than five years old,
pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and
adults older than 65 years old.
Not all of us fall into those higher risk groups but it’s
likely that if we’re eating with other people, someone will
be in one of those groups. It is important to follow the
four basic steps of food safety for all people. 1) Clean
hands and surfaces 2) separate raw meat from ready-to-eat
food, 3) Cook to the right temperature and 4) chill raw meat
and cooked leftovers promptly (within two hours). These same
four basic steps are important for any food preparation
whether it’s canned, frozen or fresh food.
No matter what type of food (fresh, canned, frozen), please
follow the basic food safety steps. When it comes to food
quality (not safety), there is often a peak time for
foods for things such as freshness and taste. We want our
food to be of high quality but if it is eaten a day or two
past the recommended date for quality, it does not
necessarily have anything to do with food safety. A food can
be safe but not high quality. For example, if someone
leaves the cereal box open, the cereal may become stale –
and not the highest quality for enjoyment – but it does not
mean it will cause illness. A similar example is frozen food
that has been in the freezer for too long. It can be safe to
eat but if it has freezer burn it won’t taste as good.
The goal is to eat food that is good for your health, good
for your wallet and good for the environment. This means
limiting the amount of food waste. One study estimated that
the average American household spends more than $2,000
annually on wasted food. Will understanding the food labels
help you cut food waste and maintain food safety?
Unfortunately, there is no uniform or universally accepted
description to use for food. The only type of food that
requires a “Use-By” date is infant formula. For all other
foods, some examples of commonly used phrases include:
Best if Used By/Before indicates when a
product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a
purchase or safety date.
tells the store how long
to display the product for sale for inventory management. It
is not a safety date.
is the last date
recommended for the product while at peak quality. It is not
a safety date (except when used on infant formula).
is when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality.
It is not a purchase or safety date.
Canned food might have two different types of codes. They
may have a “best if used by” date and they will also have a
closed date or code. This code used by the manufacturer
indicates when the product was canned. This code doesn’t
usually mean anything to the consumer unless there is a food
recall. This code is used to track the product, help rotate
stock and it will help locate products in the event of a
recall. For food safety, don’t let canned foods freeze.
Also, throw away any cans that show signs of bulging,
leaking or severely dented. Most canned food products are
safe to use after the date if they are properly handled and
do not show any signs of spoilage. For best quality (not
safety), high-acid canned foods like tomatoes and fruits
will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months. Low-acid
foods like meat and vegetables will keep for two to five
There is a free app called the FoodKeeper and the same
information can be found online at foodsafety.gov. Review
and rotate the food in your pantry, cupboard, refrigerator
and freezer. If food appears spoiled, don’t keep it for the
sake of saving money. To avoid throwing away food, keep in
mind the following, be aware of what foods you throw away,
don’t buy more foods than can be used before spoiling, plan
meals and usually a grocery list. Keep track of the food in
your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer and plan snacks and
meals from food on hand.
All the information is from the US Food and Drug
Administration, the US Department of Agriculture and OSU