Food waste is one of the leading causes of climate change, right up there with greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions. This is because food waste that ends up in landfills and is not composted produces methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 and causes way more problems and heats up our planet faster. That is why is it so important to only make what you will consume and to be mindful of the dates on your purchased goods. But sometimes those dates can be super confusing, so let me help you understand what they all mean.
A common misconception about Best By or Best Before on food labels is that once the food passes that date that it is expired or just automatically gone bad. That however is not the real case.
Best By and Best Before just indicates when the product is at its freshest and is not necessarily an expiration date. You can eat something shortly after Best By and Best Before dates, since they are not steadfast rules of expiration.
Most commonly, these dates are found on canned goods or goods that are well packaged and preserved for long periods of time. Usually, as long as there is nothing wrong with the packaging, you can get by with eating Best By and Best Before dated foods a little after the date.
The one food label that is hard to get wrong is Use By dates, since they are literally telling you when you need or should use the food by. These dates are most commonly found on highly perishable goods such as milk, eggs, meat, etc. Now, machines and the people who create these labels aren’t fortune tellers and are going off of the normal shelf life of these products, but just because it is a few days after the Use By date, doesn’t mean that that product is automatically not consumable.
My mother has really helped me get by this rule, especially with milk and how expensive it is nowadays. A sniff test or a small taste test is usually enough for you to know that that product is truly bad.
Sell By dates are the most infuriating of the food labels in my opinion since they really tell the consumer nothing and the retailer that food waste is okay. I used to work in a grocery store when I was in high school, and it was insane the amount of food we threw out or marked down because it was past the Sell By date.
Sell By dates are only there to tell the people at a store how long to display a product and is in no way an indicator of quality. Now it probably makes sense that if you find a product long past its Sell By date that is no longer of good quality, but you barely ever get to that point when you have stores that hire people for the sole purpose of searching the shelves for “outdated” products.