Is it time to clean the cupboard?

Cleaning out your food pantry and checking for out of date food items can keep you safe.

When at the grocery store, we make a purchase of an item or two that we intend to use. Somewhere along the way that item ends up in the back of the cupboard or the bottom of the refrigerator. When we do decide to use the item, it has passed the date on the container. How do we know if it can still be used or not?

The dates on different food items are there for different reasons. The sell by date is printed on items or products that are perishable. The date lets consumers know when the product is at its best for consumption. The sell by date is also printed on products, but this is more for retailers to know how long they can display the merchandise.

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) fact sheet, infant formula is required to be dated with a “use-by” date to assure quality for that product. Some states require dating on products but there are areas of the country that do not have any dates on their products. There are no federal requirements for dates on food products. There are four types of dates generally used, they are:

  1. “Sell-by” date is an indicator to the store on how long to display the product. This date is also a notice to consumers that they should purchase the product before the date expires.
  2. “Best if used by (or before)” date tells consumers that the food product quality is best if used by this date. USDA states that it is not a safety date.
  3. “Use-by” date is utilized as a date that the product is recommended to be used while it is in “peak quality.” These items are usually fresh type products that need to either be consumed within two to five days or frozen.
  4. “Closed or coded dates.” These are numbers used by manufacturers for tracking packing.

Michigan State University Extension advises that consumers should place newer products in the back of the cupboard behind the items that are already there. Simply move the previous existing items toward the front of the line. If perishable food items are properly stored (40 degrees Fahrenheit or below), thawed correctly (in a refrigerator) and consumed or frozen by the “use by date,” the item should be fine. However, if the item is stored where it is at a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or above for even just a few hours, it should not be eaten. This is when bacteria grows, causing foodborne illness.

Inspecting your cupboards for out dated food is a job we should do at least once a year. If there is an item that is discolored or has a funny smell, throw it out. Never taste an item that you may suspect is contaminated or you think may have bacteria on it. Best solution is to throw it out to stay safe.

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