Use by, best by — how to know when to toss pantry items

January 02, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Is that baking powder/can of corn/jar of cinnamon still good?

Most people don’t end up using everything in their pantry. Who doesn’t have a stray can of vegetables or soup or an old, half-used box of cornmeal in their kitchen?

If you happen to use the expired, shelf-stable food before you realized it was expired, you likely won’t get sick. The only bad news: your meal probably won’t taste as good.

“Shelf-stable” foods are foods that can be safely stored at room temperature. They are packaged in such a way that they will not grow bacteria (until they’re opened).

If you want to stay on top of your pantry items, there are some important terms to remember:

  • Use by. When you see this label, it’s a good idea to eat the product by this date. If you eat it after the use-by date you likely won’t get sick, but the product won’t taste as good.
  • Sell by. Retailers use this label to determine when they should pull products off the shelves. The product is usually still good for some time after the sell-by date.
  • Best by. This is another quality label for the buyer to pay attention to. If you eat a product after the “best by” date, it probably won’t taste as good as it used to.

Most shelf-stable food is still safe to eat after its “use by” or “best by” date.

Canned food likely will last years past the expiration date, as long as the can isn’t swelling, rusted or dented. That said, examine expired cans and toss them if they look remotely suspicious.

Rarely, canned food may contain a bacteria that causes botulism, a deadly food poisoning. The botulism bacteria can grow inside the cans and contaminate food. If the can or jar is leaking, bulging, badly dented, if the food has a bad odor or there’s milky liquid in the container when it’s supposed to be clear, throw it out immediately.

Cereal/crackers/pasta will be safe to eat past the “best by” date, but can taste stale.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute, has created an app that could help answer questions about food quality and safety.

The FoodKeeper app allows you to search its list of foods by category and will give you the recommended date to discard the item.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring or tasteless. Check out these flavorful, easy-to-make Healthy Driven recipes.

Related blogs:
9 tips that will transform your food shopping
What's in a dietitian's fridge?
How clean are you eating?

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