The Weekly Waste Word: What by?

At the beginning of each week, I try to give readers one tip on how to avoid food waste. This week’s advice: know the difference between sell-by and use-by dates.

Use-by and best-by dates are decent guides for when an item shouldn’t be consumed. Sell-by dates, on the other hand, tell a store how long it should display a product.

Most sell-by dates allow about a week of use after the items are sold and shouldn’t be treated as a death sentence.

With sell-by, and to some extent use-by, dates, a little common sense and the nose test should trump the printed numbers. The reason: lawsuit-fearing food companies build a fair amount of precaution into those dates. 

Finally, just remember that the item doesn’t self-destruct on either date. Food continually decays from the moment it’s produced or harvested. But it’s a slow decline, with most items slowly losing their flavor before becoming harmful. 

I’m not advocating pushing those boundaries too far, but there are certain foods (blue cheese, anyone?) that depend on mold.

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One Comment

  1. Susan
    Posted September 25, 2007 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the lesson. It will help me persuade your father that he could safely eat some things in our fridge, even if the date is nearing expiration.

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