What Does the 'Best By' Date Really Mean?


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When was the last time you poured milk over your cereal and it came out all chunky?

You turn over the milk container and read, "Best by March 6, 1985".

You've seen these labels before. "Sell By", Best By", and "Enjoy By" are some common labels that advise consumers when they should be eating the foods they purchase. But what do these labels mean?

The first thing to know is that these dates do not indicate when the food will become inedible. Instead, they inform consumers how long the food will remain at its freshest.

NBC reports that the Food and Drug Administration has recommended to food companies to use the phrase "Best if Used By" to try to stay as transparent as possible with consumers.

But how accurate are these dates?

That's a tricky question, but the overall answer is that it is difficult for companies to pinpoint exactly when the food will start to lose its freshness. For example, you can probably drink a glass of milk a few days after the "Sell By" date.

Honestly though, the "smell test" should get you through most situations. So, if that carton smells sour or you take a small taste and it's weird, then you know it's gone bad.

What about mold?

If certain things have a bit of mold on it, then you should probably toss it.

A Michigan State University professor of food science and safety, Leslie Bourquin says, "It's kind of like an iceberg: It's only part of what's going on".

There is a big exception. If something is hard such as Parmesan cheese, you could probably cut about an inch off and be fine.

So, be safe everyone!


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