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Myths about sell-by dates, use-by dates, and expired foods are exposed

On Feb. 10, WRIC-Channel 8 aired a segment on debunking myths about sell-by dates, use-by dates, and expired foods. It was reported that as much as 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is thrown away every year needlessly.

Elaine Lindholm with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says most foods are safe well after their sell-by stamp if they've been handled and stored properly. She said the only exceptions are dairy products and infant formula. These are required by law to have expiration dates.

Annie Andrews of FeedMore's Central Virginia Food Bank says, "Things like sell-by dates and use-by dates are used to demonstrate the quality of a product not the safety of it. This date is just telling us the peak of quality."

FeedMore helps feed 200,000 people each year. The company follows strict guidelines and offers these suggestions about sell-by dates.

  • Meat frozen before or by the sell-by date is distributed up to a year later.
  • Packaged goods are good anywhere from 3 months to 2 years, depending on what it is.
  • Most canned vegetables are safe five years beyond, if there's no damage to the containers.

Some people throw food away as soon as it reaches the expiration date stated on the package; however, the food is still good much longer.

The sell-by date is the date the store can legally sell the food at the stated price. Either the food is sold at a reduced rate or taken off the shelves. The use-by date is the date stamped on the package for maximum freshness. This doesn't mean that you can't use the food after that stamped date.

The use-by date or best-if-used -by date, is provided voluntarily by the manufacturer. The date tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality.