Monday, April 6, 2020

Best By Date and Others

Shelf, Shop Fittings, Stock  Almost all food we purchase at the grocery store comes with a "Best By" date. I know some people who automatically throw food out if that date has passed because they believe the food is expired while others including myself tend to open it, smell it, and taste it to see if it is still "good".  As far as I can tell, few people I work with actually know what the term "Best By" really means.

First off, the only dates required by the federal government are on infant formula. This is because infant formulas need to be use while they are at their peak and have every nutrient at 100 percent.  They are not required for anything else but certain states and others require it and manufacturers use it.

This means a consumer might see one or more dates listed on any product they buy.  Some are for the consumer, some are for the store while some give both the manufacturers and stores some important information.

Best by or use before simply tell you when it is the freshest but it does not mean you can't eat it.  For instance, even though the bread might have a best used by date when it is freshest but most bread is still good past that date.  Once bread gets stale, I make baked French toast, stuffing, or bread pudding.  The best by date has nothing to do with expiration dates because food is still usable.  If food is past the best by date, it means the salsa might not be quite as flavorful or crackers might not be as crisp but the food is still edible.

On the other hand, you might see a sell by date which is sort of a use by date listed on the food you buy.  This is not for the consumer but for the retailer.  It tells the retailer that this product is ready to be moved and replaced, not because it is expired but because of the peak experience for enjoying the food. It is not an expiration date but for certain products such as deli, meats, or dairy, the date alerts the retailer that the product won't be good for too much longer so they often mark it down to sell it quickly.

Then there is a born on date.  This is often used on beer because after three months its quality can diminish due to the lights the bottles are exposed to.  The light can cause the microorganisms in the liquid to start growing again which can change the flavor and quality.  If the bottles are brown or green, the light effects their contents less than if the mixture is in a clear bottle.

The last date you might see, especially if you buy the whole case complete with box, you might see a manufactured date there.  It is the date the company made the item.  Sometimes the box has both a manufactured on and a best by date.  For some products, the dates can be up to a year apart.  Again, it does not mean the product is expired and cannot be consumed.

So the question that arises is "How do they determine the best by date?".  I've often wondered about this because I didn't think the food comes with a date on it so how do they come up with the dates.  Manufacturers use lab tests and actual taste testing to set these dates. Often times, companies err on the side of caution and set the dates for a shorter period of time.

With shortages occurring regularly at your local grocery store it is good to know about the differences in these terms.  If the food on the shelf is just past the "best by" date, you can still purchase it since it is still good but you might be able to request a slight discount.  The thing about best by dates is that things like beans, and rice tend to last quite a long time after the best by date.

I hope this has been helpful.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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