What do 'sell by' dates really mean?

February 7, 2014 4:27:20 AM PST
Sell by, best by, use by, best before, better if used by...It can get confusing when it comes to those dates printed on your grocery items! When it comes down to it, what do those dates really mean? Is there a way to preserve your favorite foods so that you don't throw away hard-earned cash.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Food Safety and Inspection Services, you can't go wrong with these basic tips:

    1. Buy before the date expires

    2. Refrigerate perishables immediately and freeze what you can't use. Generally speaking, experts say these dates are not "spoil dates." The amount of time a product stays safe to eat largely depends on how it's stored. 3. Milk is good 2-5 days after the expiration date. If you can't drink it, freeze it right away and it will keep 3 months. (When freezing milk a lot of times it will change in color it will be a little more yellow don't let that scare you, there's nothing wrong with it, when it unthaws it will taste just the same.)

    4. Eggs are something that can go way past the expiration date. We're talking 2 to3 months past the expiration date! They'll last up to a year in the freezer. Be sure to crack and put them in a container first.

    5. Freezing meat: On average ground meats last 3 months and for pork it's 6 months. Beef, lamb, veal or venison last 8-12 months.

    6. Lunch meats last 1 week after the use by date and up to 2 months in the freezer.

    7. As a general rule, foods with high acidity levels keep for 12-18 months, low acidity levels 2-5 years.

    8. Items with high oil content like nuts are best kept in the freezer.

Tiffany Ivanosky is a wife and mother of 7. She's learned a few tricks to making her groceries last well past that stamped-on date.

Here are her tips:

    - Find your store's mark down section.

    - If you find a good deal on eggs, buy them up! Crack eggs 12-18 at a time and freeze them (she takes her camping). Portion them out in Tupperware to make your life easier when you're ready to eat them.

    - Buy in bulk, master the art of couponing and stock up!

    - Yogurt will last about 7 days past the expiration date in the fridge and a few weeks after the expiration date if it hasn't been opened. It's good for 2-4 months in the freezer.

    - If you get a good deal on a huge pork loin, it's close to the date, just cut it in half and freeze the rest.

    - Cereal is something that can last longer than you think. There are a couple of things you can do - put it in an air tight container or a resalable bag or even put it in the refrigerator.

    - Never store canned items in or near heat - like in your garage or an attic. Can goods have to be kept at a steady temperature or they can grow mold and you can get sick.

    - For all of these - the sniff and see test is the ultimate test - if it does smell or look good - don't risk it; get rid of it!

    - For cake mixes and even flour, if she doesn't use it right away, she'll stick it in the freezer to keep bugs out of them and it extends the life of them as well.

Tiffany advises "as a consumer it's really up to us to use a little common sense as to what we're willing to feed our families and what we're willing to eat ourselves".

USDA Food & Safety | Tiffany Ivanosky

Find more great money-saving ideas on the Deals website

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