What You Need to Know About Those Pesky Packaged Food Dates

In a recent Washington Post article, one very brave man decided to eat lots of food way past its expiration date to see how he’d feel after eating “spoiled” foods. And he wasn’t just eating foods a few days beyond their expiration date – it was weeks. As experts in the hospitality and food service industry, providing high quality delicious, nutritious meals that follow stringent food safety standards is the name of our game. But this WaPo article even had us questioning everything we know about packaged expiration dates, so we decided to investigate a little further.

First and foremost, it’s important to know the standards held by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA follows something called “Open Dating” – a policy defined as a calendar date that according to the FDA website, “provides consumers with information on the estimated period of time for which the product will be of best quality and to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale.”

In other words, that date printed on your perishables really has nothing to do with the expiration of the product as it relates to food safety, but instead, it has to do with food quality. These dates are often listed on product labels as “Best if Used By,” “Sell By,” “Use-By,” and “Freeze-By.” This date is determined by the manufacturer of the product, as a recommendation for when that product will still taste great and be up to the food quality standard you’d expect.

What’s more, there isn’t a legal requirement for food companies to date their products – those dates are optional with one exception, infant formula. Shocked? Us, too.

At FLIK – and in most quality foodservices and hospitality businesses – the golden rule is: First in, first out.  To ensure we’re serving the freshest food possible, this policy helps us manage our inventory and assures that we’re reducing our overall food waste in each café. 

And you better believe we are checking those expiration dates. 

Step into a FLIK café and your senses come alive thanks to our core philosophy of providing fresh, quality, seasonal ingredients. Our unmatched standards allow us to set the highest standards for culinary excellence. By using locally sourced produce during the harvest months, we can ensure food transparency from farm to FLIK café; we rehydrate our beans from dry and keep limited cans in our kitchens to ensure no questions ever come up regarding expiration dates. We believe once the expiration date passes, that food is no longer viable for our recipes.

For home shoppers, the next time you’re strolling through the aisles at your local grocery store, take notice of the dates printed on food containers. Based on the FDA’s “Open Dating” policy, we know these expiration dates are pretty arbitrary as it relates to communicating spoiled food, but we know that these dates are a standard for freshness and quality, according to the manufacturer. If your food is expired, try to compost your trash whenever possible to reduce your food waste at home.

The bottom line: Expiration dates on food have nothing to do with food safety and aren’t even required by law – they’re all about ensuring food quality, according to the manufacturer.

So now what?

Because of the confusion about what product dates actually mean, many people are throwing out food before it has actually spoiled, contributing to our global food waste problem. Once we can all come to terms with the idea that the “best by” date isn’t at all an indicator of the safety of the food then we can start making changes. All of this doesn’t mean you should be disregarding the dates on your food, it simply means that you can have more flexibility in when you eat the product, assuming you’ve stored it properly.

The FDA recommends checking for visible signs of spoilage such as mold, odor, or a change in texture. If those things aren’t present and the food has been stored properly then it’s likely that it’s still safe to eat – within reason

While we don’t recommend eating foods well past their expiration date at home, we do recommend taking an inventory before your next trip to the grocery store. By leveraging which items are nearing their “Best By” date and leveraging them in that week’s meal prep, you can avoid food waste, save money, and ensure you’re using food that’s still within their food quality recommendations.

So there you have it. No more tossing food the day immediately after the “best if used by” date has passed. Check for spoilage and cut back on your food waste by enjoying it anyway. For more, visit the FDA site here.


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At FLIK Hospitality Group we believe in great food, great service, and great people. Our wellness first approach ensures our food supports healthy and delicious choices, specially curated by our team of culinary experts and registered dietitians. At FLIK, we believe in seasonality in sourcing our ingredients and providing a customized approach to the culinary and hospitality needs of each client. Our dedication to providing quality hospitality service is unparalleled in the industry.

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