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Expiration Dates Don’t Necessarily Indicate Expiration

Food writer Nadia Arumugam found that expiration dates are often too conservative, lack standardization and are better indicators of optimum taste than safety.

an egg with an expiration date

Photo: Julian Bleecker

Expiration dates are determined by food manufacturers, not by federal regulations.

“Expiration dates” often say nothing about when your food actually expires, according to food writer Nadia Arumugam whose recent piece for Slate Magazine talked about the fallacy of following these dates.

Arumugam spoke with several food scientists and food manufacturers and came to the conclusion that expiration dates are more useful as indicators of food’s optimum taste, rather than its safety.

What actually matters are the conditions that you store your food under, and your own human instincts – if your food smells and looks abnormal – are a more tell-tale sign as to whether or not it is safe to eat.

So, before you toss your food the day it hits its “expiration date” check to see if it looks and smells okay.

Lack Of Standardization

The arbitrariness of the dates is also due to who is actually determining them, according to Arumugam.

There is no standardized regulation of expiration dates (aside from baby food and baby formula) – they are determined by food manufacturers who use very conservative dates.

Arumugam (talking to NPR’s Talk of The Nation) points out that some states (and New York City), have state regulated expiration dates on milk and other dairy products, but that there is no federal, standardized regulation.

Even the language of expiration dates is ambiguous and reaffirms their lack of standardization: some food products say “Use by“, others use “Best if used by” while still others say “Sell by“.

Expiration dates are designed to give consumers confidence in the food product they are purchasing, but these dates often give them a false sense of security. Arumugam suggests replacing those dates with instructions on how to properly store and cook the product in order to ensure safety.

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Laura Bult

Laura Bult is a spring intern with Earth Eats and a senior at Indiana University majoring in International Studies, with minors in English Literature and Spanish.

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