In our times there is much confusion about almost every aspect of living day to day. Time was when things seemed more stable, for instance, in employment. Back in the day when you joined a company it was usually for life… barring something egregious you might have done like punching-out a co-worker, dating the bosses daughter, or pilfering company money or property etc. Generally speaking, when hired out of college, or even in those days high school, you could count on being employed by a company until retirement at age 65, with all the fat medical, and retirement benefits to tide you over until death. Today, however, the average worker can expect to have at least eight to ten different jobs with different employers. Additionally, some statistics indicate that the average worker can expect “career” changes at least three times or more in his lifetime. While there is little that any of us can do to change this situation, this article will help to dispel some of the confusion over another important area of our everyday lives… food expiration dates.
Food expiration, much like the terms of natural or organic, are among the cloudier elements of everyday living, which on the face of it, have powerful implications for health of the average consumer. Food, as a once living thing, has a certain but variable perishable quality. Perishable meaning, of course, the time before purification begins to set in. This is so variable depending on the item, storage method, time, etc. that it is difficult to place an exact date on when a food item is still safe to eat, even for the same items. This is also why, much to the surprise of the average consumer, the government has not place mandates on food expirations.
In the 1970’s consumers began to wonder about the safety of their foods and so producers in order to show sensitivity to their customer’s needs began a voluntary system of food labeling indicating what really amounts to a vague food quality system, though it truly does not meet the need of knowing when food is safe or not. Until that time, generally, most folks relied on the “sniff and view” test. This system of labeling is now so widely known and accepted by consumers that many think that it not only is a mandate of the Nanny State, but also, an absolute guide to food safety, which in both case is a misunderstanding.
Rather the system is a custom of the trade, so to speak and not an out-and-out law, code or mandate. Manufacturers, producers, wholesalers, and marketers voluntarily label their products to show more the optimal quality date rather than the food safety date.
So for better understanding below find what most producers generally, (but not always) mean by the terms that most consumers think of as “safety dates”.
Aside: It’s amazing how times change the terms and words we use. Back in the day, a “safety date” was the girl who really liked you but whom you merely thought of as a friend. She was held in reserve so that you would always have a date for Saturday night. ☺
Sell By, this is mainly for the guidance of the grocer to indicate a last date to sell the item; this is strictly for optimum quality and does not imply food safety or even that food beyond this date is “bad”.
(Best) Used By, this is targeted to the consumer to indicate optimum quality and by no means indicates that the item is unsafe to eat. So once again it revolves around the producers reckoning of top quality.
Expiration Date, here again we have another quality criterion rather than a food safety date. This guide although mostly for the grocer can be used as an alternative to Sell By
There may also be other designations used by producers since this is a voluntary system and does not require specific labels or terms. Additionally, these terms and others vary widely according to the area, region and State. In general, though the terms above are targeted to either consumers or grocers although consumers wrongly use it as a reference of food safety.
On average, since these terms are more an indication of freshness and optimum quality it is usually safe to consume most items beyond the dates indicated. The use of the old “Sniff and View” test is largely adequate to determine when to chuck something of not, often under the guise of better safe than sorry. (see note on Botulism below for exceptions)
The bottom line is that the quality assurance dates on the labeling is just an indicator of freshness and optimum quality and not safety. Since products vary on freshness you must do the research to determine the maximum safety date beyond expiration for each and everything you consume. As I’ve been wont to say, the only way to be sure of the freshness and safety of any food for your family’s consumption is to grow, harvest, process and store you own vittles. Otherwise you are just transferring responsibility for your health to a third party who may not have a vested interest in your family’s well-being and health.
The above information while valuable to all consumers is of especial use to so-called preppers and other folks who store food for long term. Time was when all folks, not just preppers, had a larder to help them get through the winter. While not as convenient as today’s 24 hour shelf stock inventory of the modern Superette, it was also a guarantee of availability regardless of world, weather and political conditions.
A Word about Botulism
Never, never under any circumstances use canned products that are swollen, cracked, rusted or otherwise compromised. Treat them as if they contained the bacteria Botulism, Clostridium botulinum. Botulism can neither be detected by sniff or view, or even by taste. Always assume that such cans described above already contain this deadly bacteria, even when they seem to pass the “Sniff and View” test. Too many people have died to take a chance eating such food.
As always remember to continue to pray the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart.
Disclaimer: The information on this page is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text and information, are presented here for general information purposes only. Always seek professional medical advice -in other words you should always review any information carefully with your professional health care provider.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.