Food Sell By Date Explained

You purchase grocery items all the time that have a date stamp that reads “sell by,” and a specific date following it.

But what does that “sell by” date really mean? Not much, really.

Often mistaken as an expiration, sell by dates are meant to guide retailers on how long to keep food on the shelf. But it actually doesn’t tell you when your food is no longer safe to eat. In fact, this date simply relates to when food is at its peak of freshness. Because of this confusion, 90% of Americans pre-maturely throw out edible food.

Below is a list of five common household food items that are thrown out too soon and clarification of how long each can actually last.

  1. Eggs – Just because the sell by date says you have two weeks to eat one dozen eggs, it doesn’t mean that’s true. As long as you keep them refrigerated, eggs can stay fresh for three to five weeks after your purchase.
  1. Canned Food – Did you know canned food stays fresh after a year of sitting in your pantry? That’s typically what the sell by stamp will say. However, researchers from Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic suggest canned food will stay edible long after that date. Because canned food items are vacuum sealed to prevent bacteria contamination, these researchers don’t believe they should be dated at all.
  1. Apples – When refrigerated, apples will maintain their freshness for up to three weeks. But, if you decide to cook your apples instead, they can last up to eight months in the freezer.
  1. Cereal – If you seal your cereal bag or box after using it, your cereal will stay fresh for approximately one year. Even if your cereal becomes stale, this doesn’t affect consumption safety and quality is not jeopardized.
  1. Meat – Meat is recommended to be eaten three to five days after your purchase, but that’s only if it remains refrigerated. Keeping your meat frozen can keep it fresher longer and keep its nutrients intact. But how long is it good in freezer? That depends. For example, deli meat can last up to two months in the freezer, while beef stew can last up to nine months. Depending on the type of meat being stored, your freezer can keep them fresh for anywhere from three to nine months.

Due to consumer confusion about the intent of sell by dates, food is often thrown out too soon. It’s important to remember that the sell by date is related to the peak freshness of the food and doesn’t mean “rottenness.” Also, consider using your freezer as a way to help food last longer, because freezers don’t allow food-poisoning bacteria to grow.


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