The Surprising Truth Behind Sell-By Dates

Katie Sweeney

Have you ever tossed out a carton of eggs because it was past the date listed on the outside? You’re not alone: 30 to 40 percent of all food in the United States is wasted. This amounts to about $161 billion worth of food and the Wall Street Journal is reporting that “nearly half of consumers said they threw out food either fairly often or every time after the sell-by or best-by date.” However, what most people don’t realize is that the dates listed have nothing to do with food safety. The dates are usually set by the manufacturer and represent when the food is at its peak quality.

Eating eggs after the sell-by date won’t make you sick. It will simply mean that the eggs are older. According to the WSJ,  “there is little federal regulation of food labeling, but manufacturers often use terms such as sell-by, use-by, or enjoy-by to indicate when the item reaches its peak freshness. Stores sometimes use the dates to organize the stock on their shelves.” So just how long do the most common products last? I list out their shelf lives below. 

  • Eggs are edible for at least 12 weeks.
  • Milk lasts for five to seven days after being opened.
  • Bread kept in the refrigerator will not grow moldy as quickly. The moisture content and added preservatives will determine its shelf life.
  • Canned goods last for two years.
  • Packaged greens and vegetables can be eaten after the use-by date. If they are slightly wilted, toss them into a soup.

Keep eggs fresh by storing them in a clear plastic container.

Do you eat food past the date listed on the box?

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