Watch CBS News

Keep it or pitch it? The age-old used by debate for food

Keep it or pitch it? (Pt. 1)
Keep it or pitch it? (Pt. 1) 03:13

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - So, where do you fall on the sell by-use by-best by spectrum? 

When food hits that date, do you pitch it or take your chances? 

In just about every home there's the strict "go by the date" person and food experts say that's leading to a lot of food waste. 

"None of these dates have anything to do with safety," said Mary Allice Gettings, a registered dietitian and food safety and quality educator at Penn State Extension. 

She should know given her titles. She added that the sell-by date is simply for the store. 

"The assumption by the store is that you are bringing it home," she said. "You're storing it correctly and you're eating it within two to three days. And that is typically from meats, poultry and fish, and seafood."

As for milk, she said it will likely last several days after the sell-by date - but trust your senses, if it doesn't smell right, throw it away. 

There are also expiration dates to consider. 

"The United States Department of Agriculture says you can eat a food past its expiration date, but again, within a couple of days," Gettings said. 

So, what exactly do these dates mean? 

"Use by, best if used by, or best have used before, they're all very similar," she explained. "Those used by dates mean that is the date that it is at the peak quality of flavor." 

That date is the manufacturer saying after that date it might not be up to the taste you were expecting and you'll them used on a lot of products. 

"Canned foods, dry mixes, condiments, spices, things like that," she cited. 

Keep it or pitch it? (Pt. 2) 03:06

Gettings said those dates don't mean throw them out, that's where a lot of waste occurs and with everyone trying to save every penny we can these days this is one place you can do it. 

Now, when it comes to perishables, such as meat, once you thaw it after freezing, that two-day window starts. 

"You can eat eggs for a couple of weeks, maybe even a month after the sell-by date," Gettings said. 

Another question - what about spices? 

"Spices, you could use them for years, they just might not be as potent - so you just use a little bit more," she said. 

Chips and crackers and other dry items will lose their "crunch" over time, especially after they're opened. 

Of course, canned foods can last quite a long time according to Getting but they fall into a couple of categories. 

"You have about three to six months after that use-by date to use foods that are canned in the highest acid, so things like fruits and tomatoes," she explained. "Now, when it comes to low acid foods like most of your vegetables, like green beans, or corn, or peas, those can be used actually up to two years after their use-by date." 

She said a good rule of thumb is a canned item is suspect when the metal on the end starts bowing out. 

Be careful with powdered mixes like pancake or cake mixes, some contain oil and after those used by dates, they can become rancid. You might not smell it but they won't taste good. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.