Best if Read By Date

I read a post yesterday from Roger Shipp in which he asked that age-old question, “What is with this gobblety-goop with the sell-by dates?” Roger’s post reminded me of something I posted back on September 6, 2010 (yes, that’s right — ten years ago) for a now defunct blog I used to have, although my focus was more on the use by date than on the sell by date. Anyway, I dug up that post, and with a few minor edits, present it to you here.

It seems that all food products these days have expiration dates on them. Are these dates, often worded as “best if used by” on the jars, bottles, cans, wrappers, or boxes, warnings to indicate that something may be amiss if the product is consumed after the stamped date?

Or is this a conspiracy by food packaging companies to scare us into tossing out perfectly good food and to spend money to replace it with a “fresher” product?

My approach to determining whether or not something is okay to consume is to apply a series of sensory tests.
F561D376-3180-42C3-85E5-331B7F33B651The first test involves using my eyes. Do I see, for example, anything blue or green growing on cheese? When I open up the jar of half eaten salsa that has been in my refrigerator for a couple of weeks, are there white, fuzzy things growing inside the jar? Is a penicillin-like mold spotting my bread slices?  If so, regardless of the “best if used by” date marked on the package, it’s time to toss out the product.
EFCC0151-98B9-477C-A589-36B667E9E193The second test involves the sense of smell. If I put my nose up to the opening on the milk carton and a foul stench strong enough to cause me to gag emanates from within that carton, it’s a sure sign that the milk has turned.

But if the milk smells like milk, even if the “use by” date on the carton was two weeks ago, I feel safe pouring it all over my bowl of Wheaties and munching away.

I became curious about this “best if used by” date as a result of several recent occurrences. First, my wife tossed out nearly a dozen eggs because the “use by” date (or maybe it was the “sell by” date) had passed a week or so earlier.

Unfortunately, you can’t look at an egg, assuming its shell is not cracked, to see if it looks bad, and because of its shell, you can’t really sniff an egg to see if it smells bad until after you crack it open.

My wife also pointed out that our butter has “best if used by” dates stamped on the packages, which is something neither of us had ever noticed before, much less heeded.

Then just yesterday I was fixing myself a tuna fish sandwich and I noticed that the jar of mayonnaise that I pulled out of the refrigerator had a “best if used by” date of June 16, 2018, which was about two and a half months ago.

I opened the jar and looked inside. Nothing fuzzy growing in there. I stuck my nose into the mouth of the jar and it didn’t cause me to retch.

Having passed my sensory tests, I took a spoonful of the “expired” mayo and mixed it into my tuna fish. Then I took out two slices of Swiss cheese where the “best if used by” date stamped on the package had also expired. I carefully examined each slice of cheese and saw nothing unusual. No white spots, no green or blue areas around the edges. When I smelled the cheese slices, they smelled like cheese is supposed to smell.

I confidently prepared and then proceeded to eat my hand-crafted tuna fish sandwich. It was delicious, even though several of the ingredients were well past their “best if used by” dates.

According to the USDA, the “best if used by” date serves as a recommendation from food manufacturers to suggest that the food will have the best flavor or quality when consumed on or before that date. It is not a “purchase by” or safety date. Of course, that’s not how most people interpret that date.

A study by the Journal of Food Science found that it was more common for people to perceive that foods labeled as being past their “use by” date tasted bad, even though the food was actually not beyond that date. Conversely, taste acceptance increased when people ate foods that were labeled as being within the “best if used by” date range.

So is this “best if used by” date a ploy by clever food manufacturers? Is it intended to persuade people to throw out anything past the date, regardless of whether it still might be good, and to go out and replace it with the same product with a future “best if used by” date?

Being the cynic that I am, I believe it is. After all, I am still alive to share this tale of my tuna fish sandwich made with out-of-date mayonnaise and cheese. Thus, while I will be aware of the “best if used by” dates, I will pretty much continue to ignore them and will stick with my sensory tests.

If it’s not discolored, not fuzzy (assuming it’s not a peach), and doesn’t cause me to gag when I smell it, it’s still good to eat…for me, anyway.

24 thoughts on “Best if Read By Date

  1. cagedunn August 31, 2018 / 3:42 am

    eggs float if they go bad – it’s the build-up of gases. A floater is a goner! and you don’t have to sniff that one!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango August 31, 2018 / 7:39 am

      Thanks. For some reason, your response reminds me of the Salem (Massachusetts) witch trials. If the women accused of being witches drowned, they weren’t witches, but if they didn’t drown, they were considered to be witches and burned at the stake. Of course, they all drowned because they weren’t witches…or bad eggs.

      Liked by 2 people

      • cagedunn August 31, 2018 / 4:28 pm

        I did – nice to know people read the whole thing! it was a lesson hard-learned for me when my gran made me collect eggs and I picked up one from under a bush (which you only do if there’s sign of recent chook activity, otherwise …) and then broke it when my pinny caught on a stick.
        My name was skunk for about a week.

        Liked by 2 people

        • newepicauthor August 31, 2018 / 5:00 pm

          Some times I skim read blogs, but this new story of yours has really grabbed my attention.

          Liked by 2 people

          • cagedunn August 31, 2018 / 5:06 pm

            Is there a reason? something specific? or is it a sense/sensation? Serious questions …

            Liked by 2 people

            • newepicauthor August 31, 2018 / 7:06 pm

              It is like a craving to know how the story ends. I guess it is just how you reveal the details, you have a way of teasing that I like.

              Liked by 2 people

  2. Suze August 31, 2018 / 6:34 am

    as a former employee of Indian River International (the actual owner of perdue farms chicken), I can give you a few hints about eggs. One, they never need to be refrigerated..unless they are out of their shell. two, if they float, they are “bad”..throw them out. Eggs can last on a cool shelf in a dark cupboard for up to six months. YEP, six MONTHS. The “best if used by” are regulations the FDA set up and are arbitrary in the extreme. For example, it takes 43 or so years for aspirin to “go bad”..or lose it’s efficacy. Yet, every aspirin bottle you can find in any store today will have a two year exp date on them and inform you they are best used by one year from manufacture.
    For your other mentioned concerns: mayo goes “bad” if left out after opening. It has to be refrigerated but will last perfectly fine for up to two years after opening. I dare ya to try and take two years to finish one jar! Tuna, left in the can, will last 15 or so years. Canned goods, regardless of date, will be fine for consumption unless they are dented, the tops bulging or rusted. Cheese grows stuff on it. it is part of the process of making cheese. cut off anything green or white and much away at what is left. if it is a BLUE mold, throw the entire thing out. hope this helps. lol

    Liked by 3 people

    • pensitivity101 August 31, 2018 / 7:03 am

      Hi Suze, yes it does help, though in our house things don’t last beyond their best before date once opened. Dry stuff, like rice and pasta have a long life, and we stop refrigerating our eggs when we had the chickens. If it smells the slightest bit iffy, it goes in the bin. As for mayo, I like it, Hubby doesn’t and a jar will last me a couple of months. So far, no problem at all!
      Our neighbour has just come back from holiday early de to food poisoning. he had a bacon roll and thought it smelled bad and tasted funny, but he ate it anyway. Sometimes you can’t believe folk………………..

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango August 31, 2018 / 7:49 am

      I did not know that eggs didn’t need to be refrigerated. All grocery stores sell them in refrigerated aisles, so I assumed that they should be refrigerated once I get them home. Good info, Suze. Thanks for taking the time to educate and inform!


  3. Marleen August 31, 2018 / 10:20 am

    I have found that regular quality milk (such as if you try to buy the bargain brand or even a mid-priced) not infrequently goes bad before the date on the jug. There may be a higher quality milk in any area that does better; there is one here (you have to learn over time or get a clue from neighbors when you move to a new state or the other side of a state or near another state — hint for some, A&E is good). More generally, national brands of milk that are organic usually last beyond the date. (There are questions sometimes as to how strictly the organic rules are followed, but the milk is higher quality. I find it tastes better, too, from the start.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Melanie B Cee August 31, 2018 / 2:14 pm

    Worthy of a re-blog IMHO, and I’m going to do just that. Thanks Fandango! Another unique perspective to explore. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango August 31, 2018 / 4:38 pm

      Oh jeez. I gotta quit posting when I’m lying in bed half asleep. *defunct* blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Marilyn Armstrong August 31, 2018 / 4:42 pm

    Best used by dates are, I believe, mandatory. A lot depends on refrigeration and/or freezing, too. If you leave the mayonnaise out, it might look fine and even smell fine, but the botulism could kill you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango August 31, 2018 / 6:44 pm

      I always refrigerate mayonnaise once the jar has been opened. One warning I do pay attention to is “Refrigerate after opening.”


  6. Sight11 August 31, 2018 / 7:47 pm

    So what did you have for breakfast today, dated eggs and cheese toast?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Renard Moreau September 1, 2018 / 7:28 am

    🙂 Food manufacturers are fully aware of placing an earlier expiration date on their products; that is done out of safety concerns. So, seven out of ten times, the food is good after the so-called expiration date.

    Now, in regards to dairy, milk can spoil before the expiration date.

    If the temperature is above five degrees Celsius (forty-one degrees Fahrenheit), the bacterial growth can increase at an exponential rate.

    Now, you have a better idea as to the reason why you must drink it within the period of three days after opening (You really do not want milk in its liquid form lying around for four days).

    Dairy should be stored at a very low temperature.

    Anyway, one of the wisest things that you or I (or anyone else for that matter) can do is to purchase food that we need (Preferably an amount that could last for two weeks).

    Believe it or not, some people have food that went way beyond the expiration date and that is because they bought their food in bulk.

    I would like to point out, that you can get away with buying dried goods in bulk.

    And, you brought up some very good points by using sight and smell to determine whether or not if food has gone badly.

    Lovely topic, Fandango!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. leigha66 September 9, 2018 / 7:04 am

    Very good post Fandango! Between you and your readers comments I learned a few things. I tend to do the sight and smell tests too. Working in retail I did notice too much stocking out of order of sell by/best by dates. One place I often saw new placed on top of or in front of old was the candy counters at the check-outs. But it does take a LONG time for chocolate, gum and mints to go bad… according to the date that is.

    Liked by 1 person

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