Expiration dates mean quality, not safety

The local grocery store where I earned minimum wage in my high school days closed down after I went off to college because it could no longer afford to compete with the Wal-Mart Supercenter in the next town.

I suppose confining the sale of expired goods to a single grocery cart at the front of the store really limited our earning potential.

Likewise, confining my ideas on the safety of out-of-date food to simple assumptions really limited my family’s money-saving potential. In my naivety, I assumed that dates on food referred to how long they were safe to eat.

This is not true.

Most dates provided by manufacturers on packages of food are just an indication of when the quality of the item will start to decline and—in the majority of cases—foods will remain safe past the date given.

This is why people are comfortable buying expired foods at discounted prices from online sellers in the UK and local groceries in Pennsylvania.

Many food safety authorities feel that pregnant women should be more careful than these buyers, though. Agencies in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, each tell pregnant women to avoid food past their ‘use by’ dates protect themselves and their babies from harm.

I am certainly not the foremost authority on the diet of a pregnant woman. But in the words of my new favorite USDA FSIS fact sheet,

“‘Use-by’ dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates.”