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Shelf-Life: What Do Expiration Dates Really Mean?

what do expiration dates mean

You’ve probably noticed that nearly every food has a date on it these days.  It may say “use by,” “freshest before,” “expiration,” or “best by,” but essentially you get the impression that most grocery items won’t do you much good for long-term storage.

Is there a maximum amount we can store?

One of my main concerns when we began “prepping” was how we could accumulate food stores that would still be good to eat when we needed it.  We can only eat so much food (without becoming obese) and it expires eventually, so how do we store food for longer than say 18 months?  That seemed to be the furthest date printed on my commercial canned goods.

What do the dates mean?

After more research, I have learned a few things about sell dates. According to the USDA, only infant formula is required to have an expiration date printed on the container.

Other food companies to place dates on their products to help us, as consumers, make better decisions. Or perhaps they want to encourage us to consume the product before time runs out so we’ll buy some more. Some companies are offering “guarantees” with those sell dates.  In other words, if the food spoils or is otherwise below your expectations, they will replace it free within that time frame.

To arrive at those dates, the maker has determined that the food will hold its nutrients, texture, and flavor well for at least that long.  That does not mean that it is unsafe or lacks nutrition after that date.  If the food (often in cans) has been stored at moderate temperatures, isn’t rusty, and

has no big dents or swollen places, it is probably fine well after the date.

Of course, you should always use good sense when preparing to consume it.  If the contents have an off smell /taste or an unusual appearance, don’t risk it.  Otherwise, it is most likely just fine, though maybe not still at the peak of its nutrition.

A Good Online Reference

There is a good website to use as a reference to help you in determining how long after the dates you can plan to store your food.  It is .  It gives safe shelf-life ranges and explanations for what types of foods last the longest.  For example, it lists that canned Great Northern beans should be good for up to 5 years.  That makes it a really good item for stocking (and you know how I have a penchant for beans!).

This is all good information to have, but don’t forget that your goal is still to rotate your stock.  Ideally, you are using the First In/First Out rule so that you can get the best nutrition from your food.  To simplify this for myself, I re-write the date in large numbers with a marker on top of the can so that, at a glance and without squinting, I can be sure I am using the oldest first.  As a matter of fact, dating the new purchases is a much sought-after job by the kids around here.  I’ll have to say, I’d rather do that than invent new places to put it!

Soon I will try to cover some storage ideas we’ve used and how to simplify food stock rotation.

Category: Forex

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