Expiration Dates Are A Sick Person’s Friend (Myth? Probably)

September 21, 2012

I work with a lot of smart people, I just do. This is just a fact of the industry I work in, smart people are attracted to it. Now, if you’ve ever worked with smart people (especially people smarter than you) you will know they also really like to argue, really about anything. Most of the time the points are valid and other times they are born out of sheer paranoia (this is also a common trait amongst smart people).  The problem with this is that they will sometimes argue with you about a topic they know nothing about but will opine endlessly on as if their opinion is fact and every once in a while those arguments become the topic of a blog post, this is one of those times.

The other day I mistakenly mentioned something about expiration dates on food and got an earful about how those dates are BS and no way food companies understand food molecules well enough to “predict” when something is going bad or is bad. Now due to the fact I’m not as smart as all these folks I decided to do something crazy, I researched the topic a little and found out that expiration dates don’t really exist anymore. You see “sell by,” for instance which basically means the stores should remove it from the shelves or deeply discount it but the product is still okay to eat. Then you have the “Best if used by” date which is a quality-only sort of date, this means it might not taste as good after this date but it might, you decide. Finally you will see the closest thing to an actual expiration date we have these days and that’s the “use by” date. The “use by” date basically is the food company saying, “look we’re pretty sure that after this date this product won’t be good anymore so if you eat it and get sick, you’re on your own.”

The various dates you see on packages are not really regulated in any way (except on infant formula) and use a loosely defined system of “open dating” but the actual dating varies from company to company. Regardless of what the smarties in my office think, food really does expire and while it is probably true no one can predict with any certainty when that will happen it is probably not really a conspiracy by the food companies to sell more product. Bottom line is, if you’re a person prone to getting sick (like me), stick to the dates and ignore crazy people who actually have immune systems. 🙂


USDA Site (good charts)



One comment

  1. I concur, they can call those dates what they want but once we pass it I’m not eating it.

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