Experts Say Ignore 'Use-by' Dates, But I Won't

Sasha Brown-Worsham

If you're like me and you live and die by the expiration date on your yogurt, milk, cheese, and other dairy products, then it's likely (like me) that you waste a lot of food. In fact, Americans throw out about 34 million tons of food waste per year and expiration/use-by dates are largely to blame.

Let's face it: Eating food that has gone past its expiration date is a scary business, and few of us are willing to take that risk. With salmonella outbreaks, deaths from E. coli poisoning, and the rantings of friends who have had food poisoning on Facebook, more of us are too scared to eat yogurt, milk, or eggs past their "use-by" date. We throw out 14 percent of the food we buy.

And when we do so, it all just sits in a landfill, rotting. Now experts are saying "use-by" dates are almost arbitrarily assigned by the FDA and that actually they're a best guess as opposed to an exact science.

How many times have you opened your fridge only to find the yogurt you wanted a week past its date, but the yogurt looks fine?

I can't tell you the number of fights I have had with my parents over the years about sell-by versus use-by versus expiration dates. They travel a lot and shuttle between two homes. As a result, much of the food in their fridge is old. I have always refused to eat it. Turns out they've been right all along.

Scott Hurd, director of the Food Risk Modeling and Policy Lab at Iowa State University, tells MSNBC:

Officially I have to say, "Don't use it after the use-by date," but that's stupid. I use lots of food after the use-by date. These dates should just be treated as guidelines or suggestions.

Oops! Hurd says the "sniff" test will really tell you if something is bad. It's common sense. I will admit there are times I sniff the yogurt or milk, deem it fine, and decide to eat it anyway, but if I can, I ignore my common sense and go with the black date stamped on the lid. After all, what if there is something I can't see?

Much as I would like to say otherwise, I know I will still toss food that has gone past its expiration date. But I will also take the time to rinse containers out and recycle them. So at least there's that? Sorry Earth. I want to be better, but my squeamishness wins this round.

Will this make you change your approach to expiration dates?


Image via CarbonNYC/Flickr

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