Does the use by date guarantee food is fresh?

You should use the use-by (expiration) date on foods as a helpful guide to know when a food is no longer considered safe for consumption. Certain foods can be safely eaten past their expiration date, such as: 
  • Milk: You can drink milk past the expiration date, using the smell and taste test. Also consider storing milk in the main body of the refrigerator, instead of the door, to preserve freshness. Door temperatures tend to run higher.
  • Meat and chicken: As long as it smells fresh and has not developed a thin, slimy layer you can keep meat that’s been immediately refrigerated for up to 5 days past the expiration date. Prepared meat salads and cooked meats should be tossed after two or three days, if not fully consumed.
  • Eggs: Most eggs will last three to five weeks after purchase as long as they are refrigerated properly.
  • Canned foods: As long as the can is not dented and was not exposed to temperature extremes, you can keep canned goods for 18 months to two years. Canned milk may not last that long and should be tossed if it does not appear pure white, or if it has developed lumps when you open the can.
  • Frozen foods: Properly frozen food can last for quite a while; the issue is whether the product develops freezer burn or just doesn’t taste as good. Most butchers recommend consuming frozen meats within six months of purchase.
  • Boxed processed dry goods: It’s mostly the fats in crackers, chips, nuts that will turn rancid after a while. So smell or a quick taste will tell you if it’s time to toss it.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

The use-by date on food labels does guarantee that the food is fresh and safe to eat by that date; and for many products, even a few days after this date. Watch as registered dietician Frances Largeman-Roth explains use-by dates on food labels.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
We all assume the “use by” date is set in stone; the reality is you may be looking at the same jar of peanut butter you saw months back -- with a new date on it! Many foods come with a use-by date established by the manufacturer, which cannot be changed. But you may also notice a use-by date added on by the retailer on foods that they process and package. And guess what? Retailers are allowed to change that date as many times as they’d like until the product sells!

If this sounds fishy, keep in mind that the food industry is designed to move massive amounts of food in order to make a profit, so retailers will continue selling their products until they look green and moldy. In many cases, the only way to tell whether a use-by date was placed by the manufacturer or the supermarket itself is to ask your grocer. It may be an uncomfortable conversation, but your health is worth it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.