Trying to figure out what the expiration dates mean on our packaged foods is pretty confusing. There are "use by" dates and "sell by" dates, and sometimes there are just dates that don't tell us anything at all.
So, to sort out this "dating game," first, the reason for expiration dates is to tell us when to buy or use a product at its best quality. We won't necessarily get sick from eating recently expired food but its freshness and nutritional value might sometimes be lowered.
The trick is to know how long it is safe to eat beyond the package date.
You see, since food dating is voluntary with the exception of infant formula and baby food, we need commonsense guidelines for everything else like pantry or shelf-stable unprocessed foods, canned goods and cereals, baking mixes, pastas, dry beans, grains and nuts.
They can probably last a bit beyond their "best if used by" dates, as long as we've stored them correctly, and once opening dry goods, the clock does start to tick, so enjoy these as soon as possible.
Perishables like dairy products are generally fine up to a week after the "sell by" date.
After that, it's best to replace them. Fresh meat, poultry and fish should be cooked within one to two days of purchase, and never buy them beyond the "sell by" date.
Now, frozen goods can be safe three to four months as long as they're wrapped well. Of course, to be safest, “When in doubt, throw it out!" Thank goodness, in this country we can always pick up more fresh "OOH IT'S SO GOOD!!®"
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