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What food labels mean: 'sell by,' 'use by' 'best if used by,' 'expired'

Most people have something in their refrigerator that should be thrown away. Sometimes people leave food in the refrigerator because they have forgotten about it. Another reason is because they're confused about the difference between the "sell by date," "use by date," the "best if used by date," or the "expired date."

"Sell by" indicates how long a store should display a product on its shelves. Foods are still safe to eat several days after this date if you store the in your refrigerator properly.

"Use by date" is the last date for peak quality. After this date, taste, texture and quality may diminish. It does not refer to food safety. You can still use this product few days after this date has passed.

"Best if used by date" means the product will be freshest and have the best taste and texture if you eat it by this date. It does not refer to food safety. Therefore, you can still consume it after the date stamped on the food. It will just not be as fresh as when you first bought it.

"Expires" is the only packaging date related to food safety. If this date has passed, throw the food out.

Only twenty states have federal laws that require items to be dated when you buy them. In many cases, manufacturers add dates voluntarily. Perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy usually get dates. These dates simply inform consumers when products are at their best for freshness, taste and texture.

Eggs are safe for three to five weeks after purchase. Manufactures made a mistake when the put the egg compartment on the door. Keep them in the back of the fridge, where temperatures are typically coldest, rather than on the door.

Milk and other dairy products are typically safe for two to three days after the "use by" date. Like eggs, keep milk in the back of the fridge, where temperatures are usually coldest.

Butter will keep for two to three weeks after purchase. Margarine will last for four to six months after purchase.

Lunch meat is safe for two to three weeks when it remains unopened. Use within three to four days after opening.

You can be confident that if you follow the above time frames, you and your family will be safe with the food in your refrigerator.

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