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To Keep Or Not To Keep: Navigating Expiration Dates

Shalayne Smith Needham: With everyone spending more time at home a lot of us are taking time to clean out our cupboards, pantries and refrigerators and maybe finding the sell, buy and use by date stamps on our food items a bit confusing. Joining us to talk about food safety protocol is Teresa Hunsaker, consumer educator for USU extension. Thanks for being here.

Teresa Hunsaker: Oh, you bet. Happy to be here.

SSN: A lot of food waste occurs because of fears that keeping an item past its expiration date will make us sick. However, avoiding foodborne illnesses is important. Do you have a general rule of thumb on when we should throw out our food and when it is safe to keep it?

TH: You know, I think that is a little bit of a difficult one to answer. But let us talk about first the cupboard kinds of things- the dry goods. Usually that use by date, or that best by date are there for nutrition, color, flavor, texture, not a safety issue. So if things are past a best by date or a best before date, I would feel, unless it's years and years and years down the road, go ahead and use it I would feel comfortable suggesting that it's going to be not a safety issue, but a quality issue.

SSN: And sometimes we can just rely on seeing if something looks bad and smells bad, maybe try the smell test- when does that work?

TH: You know, that works for a lot of things, especially refrigerated items. Now obviously, outside of meat, especially raw meat, or cooked meat even, we want to go ahead and look it over and make sure that it smells okay and looks okay. There is nothing wrong with that.

A lot of times food spoilage or break down doesn't necessarily mean food poisoning or food intoxication. One of the things that I want to mention is eggs are kind of the exception to the rule on meat. You can keep those four to five weeks from the time you've purchased them as long as it's in the refrigerator.

SSN: What are ways we can be proactive? Of course, we can look at labels and date stamps before we buy. What suggestions do you have for storing food properly?

TH: The first thing I would suggest is cool, dark, dry if it's going to be on my shelf. So, the cooler the temperature, the longer it is going to keep in quality, color, flavor, texture, that kind of thing. If it's in the refrigerator, the main thing is knowing the basic timeframes for optimum food safety, as well as food quality. So raw meats, two to three days unless it's fish, and that's only one day, cooks beat five days.

If you ever have questions, you are always welcome to call the Extension Service to on things.

Shalayne Smith Needham has worked at Utah Public Radio since 2000 as producer of Access Utah. She graduated from Utah State University in 1997 with a BA in Sociology, emphasis on Criminology. A Logan native, she grew up with an appreciation for the great outdoors and spends her free time photographing the Western landscape and its wildlife.