Food shelf life is something that you don’t think all that much about. Yet, have you ever looked into your refrigerator or freezer and pulled out a still packaged food item that was past the expiration date? Of course, you can’t tell the risk the food might present because it still looks and smells fine. Still, is using a product past its recommended expiration even safe regardless if it’s for a few days to week or two? Or, are we just risking our health to save from wasting it?
Unfortunately, there are only suggestions as to what is considered safe when it comes to food than any set rules to guide us. For instance, the expiration date is one part of this equation. What else that you need to think about is how the item was stored on your way home from the grocery store that also might have changed the food product’s integrity as well.
Think about what the day was like when you bought that questionable item, especially if it was a perishable one like cottage cheese or a package of meat. Was it a hot day? How long was that perishable food stored in your trunk before you got home? If you didn’t bring a cooler and you have a forty minute drive home, your container of cottage cheese could have been affected and on the faster track to spoilage.
In light of this happening, you want to just toss those expired perishables because the possible pain you might experience is hardly worth the cost of a container of cottage cheese or a package of meat.
Another indicator that you should keep in mind centers around the consistency of the product once you pop the lid. If this food doesn’t have the same appearance as it normally would, maybe a bit more watery, slimy or acquiring a strange smell, then chances are it is changing and on the road to spoilage.
Some Helpful Phrases to Figure Out Food Shelf Life
Generally though, you can get a clue of how to judge what is safe by the product’s labeling.
For example, “best by” is a phrase you see often on food packages. This means that before that date of purchase, the product is at its best with proper storing.
“Use by” is another term that you see a lot. This means the product most likely should be tossed, but it is not a hard and fast rule. On the other hand, deli meats always need to be thrown out by that use by date to stay safe.
When you see “sell by” on a food item, this is the manufacturer’s signal to the store that the product needs to be restocked on the shelf. For the most part, you can eat “sell by” food items without risking food poisoning. Nevertheless, you need to examine the product for any changes before consuming to avoid a trip to the hospital.
The “expiration” date is the last date that the food should be eaten. The only exception is if you stuck this food product in your freezer. Remember, to put and date and use the oldest first.