‘Sell By’ or what? US pushes for clarity on expiration dates

If milk is a few days past its “Sell By” date, is it safe to drink?

Posted: Jun 6, 2019 10:29 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — If milk is a few days past its “Sell By” date, is it safe to drink?

U.S. regulators are urging food-makers to be more consistent with labeling terms like “Best By” and “Enjoy By” that cause confusion. By clarifying the meaning of such dates, they are trying to prevent people from prematurely tossing products and to reduce the mountains of food that goes to waste each year.

Even if you rely more on sight and smell to size up foods, you might be surprised by the risks and practices around food spoilage.

WHAT’S NEW?

Phrases like “Best By”, “Enjoy By” and “Fresh Through” generally indicate when a food’s quality would decline — not when it becomes unsafe to eat. To help make that clearer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently recommended companies stick with “Best If Used By.”

Industry groups got behind the phrase after earlier guidance from regulators, along with the more definitive “Use By” for perishables food that should be thrown out after a certain date. But the FDA hasn’t endorsed the latter phrase, which could have safety implications.

Regardless, the FDA’s recommendation isn’t mandatory, and consumers will likely continue seeing variations, in some cases because of local regulations. With milk, for instance, states may require “Sell By” or other labeling.

HOW ACCURATE ARE THE DATES?

It’s difficult for manufacturers to pinpoint how long foods will stay good, given variables like how long they sit on loading docks and how they’re stored in people’s homes.

Milk should be good for at least a few days after its “Sell By” date, though exactly how long will depend on factors including pasteurization methods.

Many people use dates on packages as guideposts and rely on their senses. Crackers might taste stale, for instance, while more perishable foods might be discolored or smell funky.

Foods like fresh meat and dairy are more vulnerable to spoilage in part because their moisture allows the small amounts of bacteria to multiply more quickly, said Martin Bucknavage, a food safety expert at Penn State Extension.

“As time goes on, the few becomes more and more,” he said.

IS SPOILAGE ALWAYS BAD?

Your tolerance for spoilage likely varies depending on the food. Few would keep pouring chunky milk over cereal, but many might overlook a spot of mold on bread.

Food safety experts generally recommend throwing out food at the first signs of spoilage. With mold, even a small fleck might be an indicator that there’s a lot more of it that you can’t see.

“It’s kind of like an iceberg: It’s only part of what’s going on,” said Leslie Bourquin, a Michigan State University professor of food science and safety.

An exception is for certain dense foods where mold has difficulty spreading. With hard cheeses, for instance, food safety experts say it’s fine to carve out a 1-inch chunk around the mold and eat the rest. If you’re not sure about when it’s safe to eat around mold, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a chart .

Keep in mind spoilage often isn’t what’s responsible for food poisoning: “Sight and smell aren’t always great indicators of safety,” said Bourquin.

A slab of raw chicken, for example, might look fresh but contain salmonella. To limit the chances of getting sick from such germs, regulators recommend safe cooking and handling practices .

HOW DO FOOD-MAKERS PREVENT SPOILAGE?

Canning in a sealed, sterile container is a way to preserve foods for years, while freezing can also stop the clock on spoilage. But even in those cases, foods can deteriorate in quality depending on factors such as acidity and how tightly the package is sealed.

In the meantime, the trend toward “natural” foods has prompted some food-makers to purge some preservatives. But companies may find “natural” alternatives that perform similar functions, and new ways to make foods last longer are emerging. One company, for example, developed an edible peel made from plants that helps extend the shelf-life of produce like avocados.

HOW ARE FOOD BANKS AFFECTED?

Greater understanding about date labeling might encourage more donations to food banks. In 1996, a federal law sought to encourage donations by shielding individuals and companies that donate food from liability.

But Michael Flood of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank notes concerns about spoilage don’t end with a donation. People who receive donated food may also be confused about the meaning of various dates, and end up throwing products away.

“We have the same problem the overall food industry has,” he said.

___

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Terre Haute
Broken Clouds
58° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 58°
Robinson
Scattered Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 57°
Indianapolis
Few Clouds
62° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 62°
Rockville
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 51°
Casey
Clear
58° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 58°
Brazil
Broken Clouds
58° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 58°
Marshall
Broken Clouds
58° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 58°
Clear & Cool
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 185993

Reported Deaths: 7742
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1077444902
Lake12223440
DuPage11689513
Kane9336298
Will8729340
Winnebago3704127
St. Clair3696156
McHenry2991114
Madison226673
Kankakee169868
Rock Island161532
Champaign157619
Peoria139935
Unassigned1365197
Kendall129523
Sangamon105733
DeKalb87129
Boone73923
Jackson65819
McLean58415
LaSalle57720
Macon50223
Adams4545
Randolph4357
Coles41119
Tazewell4068
Ogle3835
Clinton35317
Williamson3445
Stephenson3216
Whiteside32016
Union30521
Grundy2875
Monroe28413
Knox2651
Iroquois2509
Vermilion2182
Henry2081
Morgan2056
Cass20311
Jefferson19117
Warren1840
Bureau1542
Lee1482
Montgomery1477
Macoupin1423
Marion1400
Franklin1340
McDonough13315
Perry1261
Effingham1191
Christian1174
Jo Daviess1161
Saline1151
Woodford1063
Douglas1032
Livingston962
Pulaski910
Logan870
Jersey731
Mercer733
Clark700
Shelby631
Moultrie620
White600
Johnson590
Washington590
Fayette583
Bond572
Jasper557
Piatt510
Wayne501
Menard490
Cumberland472
Carroll463
Gallatin450
Lawrence430
Mason430
Ford421
Alexander360
Hancock351
Massac340
Wabash330
De Witt310
Crawford290
Fulton280
Edgar260
Hamilton230
Marshall220
Greene210
Hardin170
Schuyler170
Clay150
Edwards140
Richland140
Brown130
Pike130
Scott110
Henderson90
Putnam90
Calhoun80
Pope80
Stark70
Out of IL00

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 69255

Reported Deaths: 2996
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15029724
Lake7139273
Elkhart463077
Allen3662158
St. Joseph320379
Hamilton2543104
Hendricks1774105
Vanderburgh176312
Cass17549
Johnson1667118
Porter120939
Tippecanoe111811
Clark110945
Madison86265
LaPorte84329
Howard82465
Kosciusko82213
Bartholomew74847
Marshall74422
Floyd71845
Monroe69530
Delaware65452
Boone64446
Dubois64312
Noble63729
Hancock62838
Jackson5544
LaGrange54610
Warrick52830
Shelby52226
Vigo50910
Grant50729
Dearborn47328
Morgan43732
Henry36418
Clinton3603
White34710
Montgomery34221
Wayne33410
Lawrence33127
Decatur31832
Harrison30022
Miami2592
Scott25210
Daviess24919
Greene24034
Putnam2338
Franklin22911
DeKalb2214
Jennings21312
Jasper2102
Gibson2024
Steuben2013
Ripley1907
Perry17212
Orange16424
Starke1647
Fayette1627
Wabash1613
Posey1600
Jefferson1522
Carroll1482
Whitley1486
Fulton1472
Knox1340
Wells1342
Huntington1193
Tipton1176
Washington1171
Spencer1123
Newton11110
Randolph1074
Clay1015
Adams822
Owen821
Jay810
Rush804
Sullivan781
Pulaski711
Brown701
Fountain642
Benton600
Blackford552
Ohio514
Parke481
Pike470
Crawford440
Switzerland430
Martin420
Vermillion420
Union330
Warren191
Unassigned0202