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Expiration dates can get confusing. Do you throw out your food storage items because the date has passed? Or are they still okay to use?

According to a study by the food safety and inspection service, Americans are wasting tons of food every year because they are throwing it out prematurely based on expiration dates.

The reality of it is that just looking at these dates is not necessarily the best indicator of whether food is safe to eat or not. The exception is when it comes to baby formula. Baby formula should be consumed before the expiration passes as the dating on these foods is regulated.

What about everything else? Should the expiration date be ignored? The answer to this is yes and no.

“Sell by” dates are voluntarily placed on perishable foods by manufacturers. These dates are ideally meant for the grocers or supermarkets and indicate how long they can display the foods on their shelves unopened.

“Product codes” on the other hand are indicative of when the item was manufactured. They are usually a jumble of numbers and are used for stocking purposes.

So what happens if you go to the store and find that the expiration date on your food of choice has passed? Should you forget about the purchase and go to another store? Or what if the eggs in your fridge are past the expiration date, is it time to toss them out? The answer might surprise you!

Eggs, for example can be consumed up to two weeks after they “expire”. Before you toss them out, place them in a bowl of water, if they float, then they should be chucked out, if they sink, they are still fine and you can go ahead and make that omelet.

Meat, bread and milk, if stored properly can keep for a week after the expiration date if they are continuously refrigerated. Meat, especially, can have a 50% longer shelf life if kept frozen.

Dry goods do not spoil easily. These can last for years when stored properly: in a cool and dry place. So just because the expiration date on the pasta or rice in your emergency food supply has passed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to throw it in the bin. Dry goods can be safely consumed for up to a year after the expiration date has passed.

If you find yourself having to throw away a lot of food storage items due to expiration dates, think again before you start heading for the trash. The best and easiest way to tell if food is still fresh is by simply opening it and checking it. When food starts to lose its “freshness”, certain changes occur; the color, texture and smell will be different. The most obvious indicator being smell. If your food has a foul odor, throw it out. If it still smells fine and there is no change in the quality, then it’s safe to consume, regardless of what the date on the package says.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so if there is any question about quality due to odor or appearance, you may want to throw it out. However, the good news is that in most cases, your “expired” food storage items will still be safe to eat for some time after the date has passed.

Bonus tip.

Wilted vegetables can be ‘revived’ by soaking them in ice water for 10 minutes.

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