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3 On Your Side: Exposing Myths About Expiration Dates On Foods

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- If you do the grocery shopping in your house, chances are you pay attention to expiration and sell-by dates. But those dates on the packaging don't always mean the same thing, and as 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan finds, you could be tossing good stuff away.

Connie Mogull says she's careful about eating food stored in her refrigerator.

"If its been there for a while I do look at the date before I serve it. If I have any doubts in my mind I just let it go," said Mogull.

Whether it says "sell by" "use by" or "best by", the dates that follow can really get confusing.

Food safety expert, Brian Buckley says you shouldn't assume things have gone bad just because it's beyond the date on the package.

"An enormous amount of food gets discarded because of these dates and its really a shame because its perfectly fine, edible, wholesome food but people see the date and react to that," said Buckley.

He says the only foods required to carry an expiration date are infant formula and some baby foods.

"When those dates are exceeded it must be removed from sale and you shouldn't use it," said Buckley.

Buckley says the dates on canned and packaged foods, bottled water and even beer are more an indication of quality not a food safety or health issue. Even the "sell by" date on milk is only a suggestion.

"After the date it does not necessarily mean you should discard the milk," said Buckley.

"I think when it comes to food you've got to trust your nose," said infectious disease expert, Dr. Andrew Glyptis.

He also says shelf life depends on how a product is stored.

"If you have not opened the package and you've stored it in your refrigerator most food products will still be good beyond their expiration date," said Glyptis.

There are also expiration dates on some drug store items and beauty products... But they are not required by the government. Some items like toothpaste and sunscreen will list a date that guarantees how long the product will work.

Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3

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