Wait, Don’t Toss that Milk or Cheese Just Yet! Check Out These Expiration Date Myths…

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sell by date on cheddar cheese

Don’t throw it out yet!

We’ve all grown accustomed to checking the dates on our food products and if you’re like most people, you toss them away if the date has passed. This can lead to food waste which in turn leads to wasted money!

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Some shocking stats about food waste and expiration dates.:

  • Americans toss out about $161 billion worth of food each year according to NPR.
  • 20% of that food waste is attributed to confusing date labels on food packaging and is likely still good to eat!
  • Expiration date labels are not regulated or standard practice.

The 3 major labels are “Sell By”, “Use By”, and “Best If Used By”, all of which have not been regulated by the FDA with the exception of baby formula. Typically, these all refer to how fresh a product will be and are meant to predict when the freshness or quality of a product will start to depreciate, not safe consumption.

So which label should we listen to?

best if used by label on peppers jar

To avoid confusion, the FDA has since released a letter to the food industry asking for an industry-wide movement to adopt “Best If Used By” when labeling for date-based quality on food products. This was chosen as it best expresses peak quality rather than unsafe consumption.

While trying to set a uniform lingo for product dates, using the label is a voluntary process so producers don’t necessarily have to abide by these labeling standards. Until there’s a strict labeling policy in place, it’s best to use these dates as a guideline but not a hard-and-fast exact date to trash your food.

Here are some methods for checking food quality beyond its label date:

woman smelling loaf of bread

Use your senses.

Since there is no exact science to predicting food quality, Kevin Smith of the FDA recommends checking whether products have changed noticeably in color, consistency, or texture if you’re unsure if food is still safe to eat after the label date. If there is an apparent change, avoid eating that product.

FoodKeeper FDA app on smartphone

Check the Food Keeper App.

Developed by the FDA, the Food Keeper app is designed to help you quickly look for consumption time frames and storage guidelines for a variety of foods along with accessing recall information, educational videos, and submitting food safety questions.

StillTasty.com website on computer

Bookmark StillTasty.com.

Similarly, you can check sites like StillTasty which allow you to search for virtually any food product and their corresponding pantry, fridge, and freezer storage timelines. They also share storage tips and helpful insight for checking the freshness of food.

Printed FDA Food Facts chart

Stick this chart in your kitchen.

Don’t be bothered with reaching for your phone or computer anytime you’re questioning how long a specific food product typically lasts. The Food Facts guide from the FDA has a helpful page at the end with time frames of how long you can store common foods in the refrigerator and freezer. Print it out and keep it handy in your kitchen!

There are so many more ways to avoid waste and save more at the grocery store.

Shopping cart at Walmart Grocery Pick Up

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About the writer:

Emily obtained her Bachelor's degrees from Clarkson University with 5 years of content writing experience specializing in health, beauty, fashion, home, & living frugally.

Join The Discussion

Comments 31

  1. thomas

    I saw something similar on the tv show Adam Ruins Everything. This is great information thank you for sharing.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re welcome, Thomas!

  2. Jlinsey

    Love this, I can have proof to show my son I’m really not trying to kill him, lol. Thanks!

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      LOL! You’re very welcome!

  3. Katie’s

    Thank you!!! I have sent the 4 th page to my Mom!!! Scary what you find at her house!

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You are SO welcome!

  4. Kate

    I would love to still have a gallon of milk at even CLOSE to expiration 😉

    • ebg

      get a fridge/freezer thermometer and place it in the spot you keep your milk to make sure its below 40 degrees. Or just keep it towards the back of the fridge where its colder and not towards the front/door where its exposed to drops in temp.

      • ebg

        Unless you meant it’s used up before it can go bad. Then disregard my comment. lol

    • Amy

      SAME! My kids go through milk like we own cattle lol… NOT A CHANCE of it expiring around my house!

    • Emily

      This is so funny – it’s opposite at my house! We buy quarts or half gallons, and they still manage to go bad!

      • Lori

        Same at my house.

  5. Sheila

    Thanks Hip. Post like this is what really sets Hip2save apart from other deal sites. You will always be my fav!🥰

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      Aww, you’re very welcome, Sheila! Thank YOU for the super sweet comment! It sure means a lot! ❤️

  6. patricialavenz-goff

    Awesome information. Thank you for sharing. I always tell the kids to smell it before they drink it (sour milk) or look at it really well (bread or cheese) etc.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re very welcome!

  7. Loren

    Thank you hip2save!! Trying to do a “deep” house cleaning before all the holidays, and this is so very helpful!!

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      Great idea, Loren! You’re so welcome!

  8. *Angela-Miles*

    For some reason whenever we buy Dean’s milk it goes bad way before the expiration date. Not sure why as I never have problems with other milk brands. As far as dates go on other things, i dont toss bread or cheese unless they are hard or moldy. In my experience soda gets alittle flat after the date on it passes. And lastly, Big lots tends to carry alot of expired food, (not saying its all gone bad), but if you are strict on dates, make sure you check when shopping there. 🙂

    • Lana

      We had that problem with a certain brand years ago and my husband called the company. They tracked it down to the truck who transported the milk. He was turning off his truck and the cooler was off too so the milk was compromised. Our daughter is a trucker and she said other truckers complain about her leaving her coolers on when she is stopped because of the noise but thank goodness she does not listen since she hauls a lot of meat to grocery distribution centers. This girl went to college and was an accountant but loves the trucking job and the open road instead of being cooped up in an office. Go figure.

      • Rebecca

        Lol I love that, gypsy spirit!

  9. J.H.509

    Thank you. Milk NEVER has a chance to expire in our home the same with cheese.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      You’re so welcome! Same story here! We go through a lot of milk and cheese!

  10. Dee

    Someone cleaned out their cupboards and brought the excess to work. There was a bundt cake mix amongst the goods, so I picked it up out of curiosity and called the company. The mix hadn’t been produced since the mid-80s. The company said there wouldn’t be any danger in using it to make a cake, with the caveat that it might not perform as expected. A lady took it home and said it made a good quality cake.

    • gege1804

      Lmao mid 80’s smh i wasn’t evem born yet. I would have that one go 😁

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      LOL! SO interesting! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    • K

      Lol that’s a brave lady to try that cake mix

  11. April

    161 billion dollars of food is wasted yet people are starving even in America. It really makes no sense.

    • Sarah

      I think part of that is that the soup kitchens won’t take expired food. I understand not super old foods, but I can’t even donate stuff that’s going to expire in the next month.

      • April

        I agree.

  12. Kim

    White spots on hard cheeses are likely amino acid clusters – not mold.

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