Expiration Dates: How long?

What is that smell?? You open the container of yogurt and can barely inhale. Did you know that the only items required by federal law to label expiration dates are infant formula and particular types of baby foods?? We live in a world of prolonged shelf life due to the processed nature of what we now eat. The concept behind labeling expiration dates coincides with the phrase, “Proceed at your own risk”. The expiration date is the recommended last day the item should be eaten or used for consumption.

There are a number of catch phrases when it comes to expiration date labeling. “Best if used by or before date”, pertains to quality not safety. The food might not taste of have the same quality if not eaten before the recommended date. “Guaranteed fresh” typically is found on bakery items. A stale muffin after the date doesn’t quite taste the same. “Sell by date” is really for the store purposes. This date tells the stores when they should remove it from the shelves. The item is still edible post-date, but it will not be of the same quality. Sometimes stores mark down prices on these items after the date has passed. “Born on” date is usually found on beer labels because after 3 months beer can turn green. “Pack date” is on packaged items or canned goods and it refers to the date is was actually packaged. These terms can be tricky, and the sniff test doesn’t always equate to the expiration date listed.

There are some generally applicable rules to follow when it comes to expiration dates. Milk will be okay up to one week after the expiration date listed. Seafood and chicken should be cooked or put in the freezer within one to two days of purchasing. Beef and pork should be eaten or frozen within three to five days. Canned goods are usually okay for up to 5 years, but items that have high acidity like tomato sauce are better used within about 2 years. Eggs can last up to 3 to 5 weeks after bringing home. An item doesn’t expire once you freeze it.

Food that needs to be refrigerated should be kept under 41 degrees F. Food that needs to be refrigerator should not be kept out for more than 4 hours. Milk requires 38 degrees and fish 32 degrees. Proper storage is important. As the popularity of buying in bulk has increased, less trips to the store for fresh foods has decreased. Always be cautious and check dates. After all, eating cottage cheese that has grown hair on it, clearly is more of a science experiment versus a delightful snack.





Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY’s Fit. She has an M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, is a current candidate for her Doctorate in Health & Human Performance, and she’s an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She’s also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor.