Diabetes and Dollar Sense: What Dates on Food Packaging Mean

If you are managing your diabetes by eating well, you are spending money on good foods that are costly to waste.

It is estimated that each of us throws away up to 20 pounds of food every month, partly because we are not sure what the dates on food packaging mean. If we doubt the safety of consuming a product we are likely to toss it – but may be getting rid of a safe and edible item.

Decoding the Dates

The dates that are stamped on food packages are not put there to ensure consumer safety, as many of us think. They are placed there primarily so grocers can provide their customers with quality foods. Exceptions to this are dates on infant formula, mandated by law to guarantee safety, and some states require eggs to be dated for health reasons.

To avoid stuffing our landfills with food that can still nourish and energize us, we need to know what those dates on packaging actually mean.

  • Best if used by (or before). This date is not about safety. The date is suggested for experiencing the best product quality or flavor.
  • Sell by. This date informs a grocer how long they should display an item for sale. The product should be purchased before the date is past.
  • Use by. This date is about food quality and is set by the manufacturer. After the date passes, there might be a decline in the food’s quality.
  • No date given. The item should be refrigerated, cooked, frozen or eaten shortly after the purchase.
  • Coded or closed dates. These are manufacturers’ packing numbers and might be used for food recalls.

Though the dates on grocery items are not generally about safety, food safety is always a genuine concern. If you question whether an item is safe for consumption, you are wise to toss it.

Ways to Save

Other common sense ways to save money by saving food are freezing perishable items within a few days of buying them, keeping cold foods cold, refrigerating and heating-up leftovers in a timely way, and cooking foods to recommended temperatures.

Source: Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Sarah R / flickr creative commons

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