Understanding expiration dates can prevent food waste 

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Food waste is a serious problem, especially as grocery prices continue to go up. Wasting food is just like throwing away money. Many people toss stuff that is still perfectly fine for consumption. Expiration dates and use-by dates can be confusing and can lead people to throw away foods that haven’t actually gone bad. By understanding how to read these dates and knowing more about why they are used, you can stop wasting food. This can go a long way in stretching your grocery budget. 

What do expiration dates really mean? 

expiration dates, back view of a man wearing black tee shirt in grocery story aisle

Use-by and best-by dates are more about quality than safety. When it comes to canned foods, acidic foods like fruits and tomatoes will go bad more quickly than non-acidic foods. However, they can still be safe to eat for several years beyond the expiration. Manufacturers add these dates as a guideline. There is no exact rule on how long foods can be used past the date on the package.  

Dry goods like rice, plain potato flakes, and pasta can also last years when stored properly. The key is to keep these foods stored in airtight containers away from moisture and in a climate-controlled space. Some perishable foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy can be frozen or dehydrated to extend their shelf-life beyond the use-by or sell-by date.  

It’s better to be safe than sorry 

expiration dates, tote bag with red straps filled with canned goods, food label showing on one can

Throwing food away can be very hard for the frugal-minded. But when it comes to food safety, it’s important to know when food should be thrown out. When it comes to canned goods, it’s important to check for bulges or dents in the can. A bulging can usually means the food has gone bad and dents can compromise the food inside so it’s important to use dented cans up before or close to their expiration date. Use common sense when checking your food and always toss things that have an odd smell, look moldy, or seem off in any way. Food poisoning, especially when it comes to harmful toxins like botulism, is nothing to play with.   

As grocery prices continue to rise, you may be looking for ways to make do with what you have. One way to get the most from the food you buy is to use it up before it goes bad. While best-by dates are helpful in determining when food should be eaten, they aren’t completely reliable. Most foods can go beyond the date on the package, especially canned and other shelf-stable foods. Be aware of dates, but also use common sense so you don’t throw out perfectly good food simply because it’s past the manufacturer’s recommended date.  

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