Expert explains whether or not expiration dates matter

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CHARLESTON, S.C (WCBD) – There’s often a misconception that food has to be thrown away by it’s expiration date, but that’s not the case for all foods. 

Belinda Kowalski has her own personal approach when it comes to preserving food before it expires. 

“I don’t really look at expiration dates,” Kowalski said. 

Instead, she throws everything into the freezer. 

“I look for things that are on sale because I’m always looking for a bargain,” she said. “I know that if I buy those I can put them right in the freezer or come home and cook them”

Here’s the thing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. According to Chad Carter, an associate on the Food Systems and Safety Team for Clemson Extension, expiration dates are not obligatory. 

“Sell by, use by, expiration dates are voluntary, they are not regulated by the federal government with the exception of infant formula,” Carter said. 

Carter said expiration, sell by and use by dates are a matter of quality versus safety. 

“Those dates are quality dates, not safety dates,” he said. 

That means, any items someone may throw out of their refrigerator simply because it’s past the “use by” date could have just went to waste. When it comes to perishable items like milk, yogurt and cheese, Carter says a spoil test is best. 

“If they go beyond the date they still very well could be safe so we’re looking for signs of spoilers,” Carter said. “If it smells funny, or turns a weird color or a weird texture, that’s an indication we may want to throw it away.”

As far as non-perishable items like pasta and canned goods, those can last up to a year, well beyond its expiration date. 

“They’re dry, they’ve gone through processes that keep them safe for quite a long time, sometimes well beyond a year,” he said. 

Carter says eating things past its expiration date is not dangerous as long as there’s no spoilage. Following expiration dates has led to an increase in wasting food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it’s important for consumers to know that expiration dates are for quality and not for safety, which could help limit food waste. 

Up until last year, the USDA could use 10 different labeling terms including “sell by” and “use by.” Now, they only use “best if used by” to help avoid consumers wasting food. For more information on expiration dates, click here

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