Extension Connection: Timing everything with expiration dates

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dating can be delicate &045;&045; it&8217;s important to know when the timing is right. In this instance, I&8217;m referring to food product dating, not courtship.

&8220;Sell by, use by, purchase by, best-if-used-by&8221; &045;&045; how do consumers know which to follow? To eliminate the guessing, USDA offers some practical guidance on how to read those dates on food labels.

Generally, dates such as &8220;sell by&8221; are voluntary, meaning they are not mandated by the federal government. Dates are provided by manufacturers as a quality guide. One exception on voluntary code date regulation is baby formula and some baby foods in which code requirements are linked to nutritional adequacy.

&8220;Sell-by&8221; dates tell the store how long to offer a product for sale. It is the store&8217;s responsibility to pull these products off the shelf on the sell-by date, but in actual practice it may not always get done.

Be diligent in noticing these marks to make sure you buy these products before the &8220;sell-by&8221; date, the longer before, the better, of course.

&8220;Best if used by&8221; dates recommend best flavor or quality and do not refer to food safety.

These are primarily for the consumer&8217;s use after the purchase. &8220;Use-by&8221; dates refer to the last date that the manufacturer suggests is best for the product to be consumed.

So what about that chicken you plan to roast and serve? Think about timing when you&8217;re in the store. Be sure that you buy fresh chicken before the &8220;sell by&8221; date on the package. After that, you can keep it in your refrigerator 1-2 days before cooking. Or, pop it in the freezer for up to one year.

When you purchase, as well as whenever you use milk, be sure to take a look at the date. Usually milk keeps seven days after the date listed on the carton if it has been refrigerated. Baking a cake with fresh eggs?

Check the date on the carton. Eggs in the shell and refrigerated can last a month. But hard-cooked eggs only last one week in the refrigerator.

Food becomes unsafe if mishandled at home, in situations such as when defrosting food at room temperature for several hours, or letting raw meat juices contaminate vegetables. Bacteria can then grow, causing foodborne illness. Stay safe by following the food safety guidelines: clean, separate, cook and chill.