Checking Expiration Dates

Long View: Food Safety – What’s in a Date?

I was hunting for some cookies at my mom’s house, and I noticed a bottle of Tabasco® sauce in the back corner of the pantry. I wondered why she had a new bottle of something she rarely uses, and she told me she just keeps it around and had moved it from her house on Church Street.

“Gee, Mom, that was 12 years ago,” I said, and it got me thinking about expiration dates and what they mean.

I hope during this holiday season and all year long, Health Alliance Medicare members and non-members alike, pay attention to this wise advice from the experts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines the most common terms this way.

• A “sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before this date.
• A “best if used by (or before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
• A “use-by” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The maker of the product determines this date.
• “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

Who knew?

Another good food safety resource is your local University of Illinois Extension office. Jenna Smith is the nutrition and wellness educator for Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties. She has a safety-first approach.

“Dates on food packaging can be very confusing,” Smith says. “But in general, most dates refer to best quality, not to food safety. When in doubt, throw it out. If the food develops an off odor, flavor or appearance, do not use it.”

As a former holder of a Food Service and Sanitation Certificate, I tend to take a very conservative approach when it comes to food safety. I especially remember some videos on the proper methods for handling raw chicken and the consequences of not maintaining the proper temperature. I didn’t eat poultry for two years.

Paying attention to safe food practices and being well informed are the best ways to be safe. I think my mom’s Tabasco sauce has transformed from a condiment to a treasured family heirloom along the way. I am OK with it for now, as long as I’m not eating it.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Health Alliance!

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