'Use By' or 'Use Before': A lesson in food product dating - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

'Use By' or 'Use Before': A lesson in food product dating

(KLTV) -

Is there anything worse than opening the fridge and finding your milk has expired? Or buying a loaf of bread and realizing it's already passed it's "use by" date?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States.  More than 20 states require dating of certain foods, but other states do not require any food dating. With the exceptions of infant formula and some baby food, product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations.

Although a date such as "sell by" or "use before" must be displayed, the date does not correspond to the date by which the product must be consumed to ensure food safety; rather, the date is indicated for product quality.

For example, open dating is found on foods such as meat, eggs, and milk. After an open date passes, food may not be at the best quality, but it should still be safe to use if handled and stored at proper temperatures. If the product has a "use-by" date, the product should be consumed or frozen by that date.

In the case of infant formula, if stored too long, it can separate and clog the nipple. Baby food stored for too long may lose nutrients. Do not buy or use baby formula or baby food after its “use-by” date.

USDA offers the following food storage tips for the safe use of products:

  • Purchase the product before the date on the label expires
  • Refrigerate perishable foods promptly after purchase.  Freeze products if you cannot use them within the recommended time period (below).
  • Foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • Follow safe food handling recommendations on product labels.

For fresh or uncooked products, USDA recommends the following storage times after purchase:

  • Poultry:  1-2 days
  • Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb:  3-5 days
  • Ground Meat and Ground poultry:  1-2 days
  • Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings):  1-2 days
  • Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating:  5-7 days
  • Sausage from Pork, Beef, or Turkey, Uncooked:  1-2 days
  • Eggs:  3-5 weeks

For processed products sealed at the plant before reaching a retailer USDA recommends the following storage times:

  • Cooked Poultry:  3-4 days if unopened, after purchase; 3-4 days after opening
  • Cooked Sausage:  3-4 days if unopened, after purchase; 3-4 days after opening
  • Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable:  6 weeks in the pantry if unopened, after purchase; 3 weeks after opening
  • Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices:  5-7 days if unopened, after purchase; 3-4 days after opening
  • Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal:  2 weeks if unopened, after purchase; 3-4 days after opening
  • Bacon:  2 weeks if unopened, after purchase; 7 days after opening
  • Hot dogs:  2 weeks if unopened, after purchase; 1 week after opening
  • Lunch meat:  2 weeks if unopened, after purchase; 3-5 days after opening
  • Ham, fully cooked:  7 days if unopened, after purchase; slices 3 days, whole 7 days after opening
  • Ham, canned, labeled “keep refrigerated”:  9 months if unopened, after purchase; 3-4 days after opening
  • Ham, canned, shelf stable:  2 years in the pantry if unopened, after purchase; 3-5 days after opening
  • Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable:  2-5 years in the pantry if unopened, after purchase; 3-4 days after opening

The USDA recommends a simple phrase: When in doubt, throw it out!

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