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There's often a lot of confusion about what the dates on products mean. You could be throwing away perfectly good food, which contributes to food waste and greenhouse gases.  

First, it is important to distinguish between “open dating” and “closed dating.” The “open” dates are applied by manufacturers and refer to quality and the selling window. The “closed” dates indicate when and sometimes where that product was produced or packaged and can include numbers and letters. 

There are typically three types of “open” dates you may see on packaging and all of these are applied by the manufacturer. What you may not realize is that the only products actually required to have a date are infant formulas – all the rest are voluntary and not required by law.  

·      Best-by date: This is a date determined by the manufacturer that the product will be the best quality or flavor. It is not a food safety or expiration date.

·      Sell-by date: This is a date for the retailer or store to guide them as to how long the product should be sold or displayed. This also is not a food safety or expiration date. 

·      Use-by date: This is the last date that the manufacturer recommends using the product while at best quality. It is not a safety date – except for infant formula.  

So, wait before you throw something out. If a product is beyond the dates indicated on packaging, here are questions to decide whether it’s worth keeping or should be discarded: 

1. Has it been kept at the proper temperature? If not, best to throw it out. This is especially important for perishable foods like dairy, meat, chicken and fish.

2. Has it been opened? If it has been opened and is now well beyond the use-by date and has been in your refrigerator, it is probably time to throw it out. 

3. Is there visible mold? Throw it out. 

4. Does it smell bad? Throw it out. 

A good app for your mobile device is FoodKeeper by the Food Industry Association and the USDA. It can also you help decide when to discard food products. 

Above all, we don't want to put our health or the health of a loved one at risk by consuming food that presents a food safety risk. Pay attention to the dates, store and refrigerate foods appropriately, use your senses (sight and smell) and use good judgment.  

(Sources: Food Product Dating and FMI | The FoodKeeper)

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