Expiration, Sell-By, Use-Before, and Use-By Dates on Foods: What Do They Mean?
Often people open up their refrigerators, cupboards, and cabinets only to find foods with questionable integrity. Some people trust their noses. Others look for visible signs of mold or deterioration. Figuring out the difference between the “expiration,” “sell by,” “use before,” and “use by” dates may leave some people scratching their heads.
While it is always better that you are safe rather than sorry, the following guidelines and information should help to take the guesswork out of determining whether or not your food is good to eat.
The expiration date is the last day the food is safe to eat. If you have not consumed it by this date, throw it away. After the expiration date, it may cause someone to become sick if consumed.
Sell by date
This is the date that is printed for the supermarket. If the item has not sold by this date, the store should remove it from the shelf. It still may remain safe for consumption, if eaten after the marked date. Depending on the food, you still can store these items in your home for days to weeks after the sell by date.
Best if used before or by
The best if used before or by date means the food has a guarantee of peak freshness by this date, if it is properly stored. After that date, it will still remain safe to consume for a while, although it will have a lesser quality of taste, flavor, or nutrition.
For an exhaustive list of how to manage foods, visit the following Web sites:
- Cold storage chart: (http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/food/cooking4groups/8.htm)
- Foods purchased refrigerated: (http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/food/cooking4groups/9.htm)
Making sure canned foods are safe is not as easy to determine as more highly perishable foods.
Follow this advice:
- Many times the expiration date has to do with the actual can and not the food inside of it; many foods will outlast the can, but if the can starts to lose its integrity before the food, the expiration date will reflect this
- If the can is dented at a double seam on the top or bottom of the can, throw it away immediately
- If the can has rust on it, throw it away
- If the can has a severe dent on the side that pulls the top or bottom of the can, throw it out
- If the can is swollen, do not consume its contents
The only foods that are mandated by the US Dept of Agriculture to include dating requirements are infant formula and baby food. Many foods do not have any date or indication of freshness to determine whether they are safe to consume. Some foods use a different system called Julian dates, whereby the month is indicated by a number or a letter and the year is represented with only one number, representing the last number of the year it was produced (for example, 2009 is marked as a 9).
While following these guidelines can alleviate some of the confusion about whether a food is safe or not, the best advice probably is “when in doubt, throw it out!”
Office of Citizen Services and Communications, US Government Services Administration. Deciphering good expiration dates. Available at:http://blog.usa.gov/roller/govgab/entry/deciphering_food_expiration_dates. Accessed November 17, 2009.
Wood D. Nothing simple about food dating, expiration dates or ‘use by’ dates: most product dates relate to quality rather than safety. Available at: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2009/08/expiration_dates.html. Accessed November 17, 2009.
Info provided by RD411
Now that summer is almost here, it’s a perfect time to fire up the grill instead of the oven. May is even National Barbecue Month.
Barbecuing also offers plenty of health benefits, depending upon what you’re throwing over the flames. Groceries and farmers markets are full of fresh, locally grown produce, and Southwest Florida is blessed with an abundance of seafood.
But no matter what your favorite protein is, one thing always holds true: Grilling lends itself to a healthy diet.
Veggies never taste better than when grilled. That fresh, flavor-bursting taste is complemented by that magazine-cover grilled veggie “look” and it’s all good. It’s also nearly impossible to ruin a vegetable on the grill, so relax and experiment. You’re likely to wind up with a flavorful al dente version of corn, zucchini, peppers, onions or even something more unusual.
For something different, try grilled endive. (Joseph’s Table in Taos, N.M., serves a delicious version, with a gorgonzola sauce).
Marinating is a wonderful way to enhance veggies; they tend to caramelize when marinated. Use a large Ziploc-type bag to give them this advantage, if you have the time and inclination.
But once you’re ready to grill, avoid coating veggies (or anything else) with anything too sugar-intensive. Ingredients such as molasses, brown sugar and fruit juice tend to make foods burn in high heat. Most vegetables do best when cut into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch-wide pieces.
You can choose to put your vegetables directly on the grill – including speared on kebabs – or you may opt to put them in foil and lay that on top of the heat. Experiment and see what suits you.
Also, adding a dash of salt to veggies really draws out the flavor by drawing out the moisture inside them. Add the salt and any other seasonings you choose, after brushing them with a little oil. Then grill; veggies only need a few minutes.
Chicken with the skin on has a much higher fat content than that without: nearly double. So take it off before you marinate. Leaner cuts of meat can also trim up to half the fat calories overall, while still providing that yummy grilled taste. This frees you up to “spend” your calories on salad dressing, a cocktail, a simple dessert or something else.
Leaner cuts will require a marinade, however, as they can be tougher. Opt for thinner cuts of meat; marinade will penetrate only to about a quarter of an inch. Score the meat before covering it in marinade. And choose something with higher acid content, to help break down the fibrous nature of the meat.
Fish is always lean. Grilling is a great time to add salmon or tuna to your diet (tuna doesn’t want to be grilled for long). It’s very important to keep fish on ice or refrigerated until ready to grill in order to avoid food poisoning.
Depending on your meat, here are four low-calorie choices of marinade: Worcestershire sauce (2 tablespoons has only 30 calories); low-sodium soy sauce (2 tablespoons contain 120 calories), or tomato paste (2 tablespoons contain 40 calories), work really well.
For chicken, I like a tropical marinade of stone-ground mustard, honey and Key lime juice.
The sides that typically accompany a grilled dinner are where you can run into trouble. Save a lot of calories by avoiding creamy salads such as cole slaw, macaroni or potato salad; try brown rice or whole-meal pasta instead. If you plan to use bread, avoid white breads and pick up a nice whole-grain option. Fresh fruit salad is also a great substitute for potato salad, and can double as dessert.
Grilled pineapple is another delicious dessert option. Brush it with a little oil the same way you do with veggies and enjoy this delicious treat. For something really different, grill bananas!
Make sure any kids in your household understand how to be safe around a grill. And then get them involved in the process: shucking corn, skewering veggies, brushing on marinade or oil. This fun activity can become a lifelong habit, one that enhances nutrition and health.
Copyright 2010 Elaine Hastings, RD. Heath and Wellness, Nutrition Expert
Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition and Sports Specialty in Florida. Hastings can be contacted at email@example.com or by visiting AssociatesinNutrition.com. Visit her blog for the latest information on nutrition and great tips for staying healthy: AssociatesinNutrition.com/wordpress. Take the Challenge, Change your Life!
We all know that eating a variety of foods is important to promoting growth and establishing good nutritional habits for the entire family. But if you have a picky eater in your household, mealtime can be a source of frustration and battles.
Fortunately, most kids get the proper nutrition in their diets throughout the day. Children’s taste buds and food preferences mature over time, so introducing new foods can take time and patience.
Picky eaters beware – here are some tips to encourage your children to try new foods.
- Try and try again. It may take up to 10 times of trying a new food before your child likes it. It is normal for children to be cautious at first.
- Involve your child in choosing foods at the grocery store. Trying new foods is more fun for children when they pick them.
- Let your child help prepare the food. Whether it’s stirring the ingredients, cracking an egg or washing vegetables, let your child become familiar with the new food. As you prepare it together, you and they can talk about the color, shape and texture of the food.
- Try one new food at a time. Don’t overwhelm your child with too many new foods at once. Make small changes and try serving new foods alongside some of their favorite, more familiar foods. Broccoli may be more appealing if it is served with a side of macaroni and cheese.
- Minimize distractions. Turn off the TV, don’t allow toys during meals and eat at a table.
- Don’t force your child to eat. Respect their preferences. Children sometimes do not like to eat food they have never seen before. Keep serving the food to your child. As they become more familiar with it, they may decide to taste it.
- Get creative with preparing new foods in different ways. If your child doesn’t like cooked carrots, try serving it with a low-fat dip such as ranch dressing or hummus. Another option is to purée fruits and vegetables and add them into casseroles or other prepared foods. For example, add chopped vegetables into sauces or top cereals with fruit.
- Set a good example. If the adults in the family avoid eating a variety of foods at the table, then it really shouldn’t surprise you that your little shadows are following the example that you are setting. With fast foods so readily available, it is only logical that healthier options are easy to pass up.
- Don’t be a short-order cook: Serve everyone the same meal. If everyone is eating the same thing as the rest of the family, it becomes easier for children to model after healthy choices.
Meal time should be about spending time together as a family, not a battleground over what’s on the plate. However, if you are concerned that your child’s eating habits are compromising his or her growth or health, consult your pediatrician or a registered dietitian.
Research shows children who eat healthy in their early years will carry those habits into their adulthood. Keep trying, be patient and eventually your child will surprise you.
The health risks associated with smoking are well researched and documented. In fact, studies have linked smoking with some of the most serious health issues such as cancer, emphysema and heart disease. However, what many people don’t realize is that smoking leads to nutritional deficiencies that may contribute to these and other illnesses.
Smokers should be aware of the impact that cigarette smoking has on their body’s ability to digest and use food, use nutrients and support the body’s immune system. Smoking prevents absorption of vitamins and minerals, interfering with the body’s ability to use vital nutrients properly.
In addition, smoking has a significant effect on vitamins. For example, smoking interferes with your body’s ability to use nutrients and depletes the body of vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects the body from disease. The more people smoke, the more vitamin C they lose from tissue and blood. The damage done by smoking may not be reversed by just increasing vitamin C intake through diet alone, so a supplement may be needed.
In addition, research shows that vitamin E is more rapidly depleted in tissue concentration in smokers than in non-smokers. As a result, tissue, including lung tissue, is more vulnerable to toxins. Vitamin E is also believed to inhibit fatty deposits on the inner walls of the arteries. Loss of those fatty deposits due to smoking can also cause hardening of the arteries and impaired blood flow from the heart. All of these factors contribute to an increased risk of disease.
While supplements or antioxidants may not protect the body against the damage caused by smoking, they can help increase the nutrients that the body needs. In addition, smokers should increase their intake of antioxidants by eating more fruits and vegetables. In fact, smokers need to eat more healthy foods than non-smokers just to get the same nutrients. To help the body properly use these nutrients, smokers can drink green tea, eat fruit and vegetables, and take vitamin C and E supplements.
Many smokers do not want to quit due to the risk of gaining weight. However, the risks of smoking greatly “outweigh” the risk of weight gain. While you may be tempted to diet while smoking or trying to quit, you should increase your intake of healthy, vitamin-fortified foods, drink plenty of water and increase your physical activity. When dietary changes combined with regular exercise become part of your daily routine, weight can be more effectively managed. However it’s recommended that you begin your dietary and nutritional changes before you actually quit smoking. That way, you will already be on your way to feeling healthy and have your diet plan integrated into your lifestyle before you quit.
For those who quit smoking, exercise and healthy eating may actually become more manageable. When you stop the smoking habit, you can usually breathe easier and move more quickly.
- Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition in Florida. Contact her at AssociatesinNutrition.com or Elaine@eatrightRD.com.