Do you check the label of a processed food product before purchasing them at the supermarket?

At times consumers do read the label but become baffled with the terms used for these dates. For instance, some food packs read “sell by” others as “use by” and some others “best by”.

These dates specifically boil to down to a single term called “expiry date”, nothing beyond that. The expiry dates are stated by the food manufactures after conducting shelf life studies on the products. The quality assurance and control teams estimate the duration for which the product is at its peak level of performance (in best shape and quality) using several analytical tools and techniques. Food companies prefer to serve their consumers with the best of their products, hence they stress upon consuming the product during the mid-level of its shelf-life period.

What do these dates mean?

Sell by: This date signifies the date by which the retailers should display the products on the shelves or the date by which these products should be sold. The product may not necessarily be unsafe for consumption beyond this date.

Use by: By the end of this date the quality of the product may deteriorate but doesn’t mean that the product would be less safe for consumption. In case of yogurt, the cup of yogurt may become puffed or there may be syneresis (separation of whey) which is an unacceptable trait of the quality of yogurt.

Best by: This date indicates the best time to consume the food while the product assures ideal quality.

Are expired foods still good to consume?

The answer is “yes” they may be good and fit for consumption even after the expiry date, if only they were stored under proper environmental conditions. For instance, if you are consuming a glass of milk, past three days of it’s expiry, it may be in the best conditions if refrigerated under proper conditions. However, if this pack of milk was subjected to temperature abuse, it may not even be fit consumption during the products set shelf life period.

Expiry dates and what do they mean

Are there chances that the food may expire before reaching the expiry date?

Yes, this may occur when the product is abused, contaminated or adulterated. The case where the products are not stored at ideal conditions, food products may expiry way before reaching the shelves. Hence, it is essential to maintain favorable conditions of food products right after processing and at each stage of the supply chain.

Who decides the expiry dates?

     The federal bodies are not remotely associated with the printing expiry dates on food products. It is the food manufacturer or processor who decides the expiry dates and shelf-life of the products, based upon the tests conducted on the quality attributes of the product based on the studies validation and verification studies by the R&D and Quality team in the companies.

How do consumers judge if the product is safe?

Make sure to read the label carefully, the food processor does mention times when the product shouldn’t be bought, for instance you may come across warnings such as “don’t buy if the seal is tampered” or “don’t buy if the cup/pack is puffed”. If you observe any peculiarity in the product you may report the processor directly and file a complaint about the quality of the product. In such cases, the processor conducts a recall of the products and takes corrective actions against it.

What can we do to reduce food wastage?

Consumers can donate the expired food products to charitable organizations and food banks by evaluating the quality of the food and if it is wholesome, other than just discarding them. Furthermore, as consumers we should be aware that these dates printed on the products signify the quality of the food and not the safety of the food product.

This article is written as a part of the Drawandown EcoChallenge teamed up with Edible Issues. We are trying to reveal the truth behind these expiry dates and what they signify and trying our best to make consumers aware about the dates.

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