The (Food) Dating Game; Joan Salge Blake offers insight into determining food safety

March 22nd, 2011

Altered use by dateJoan Salge Blake, Clinical Associate Professor of Nutrition at College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College, reacts to today’s announcement of the dismissal of the Boston Public School’s longtime director of food and nutrition services. The dismissal was sparked by Boston Councilor at Large John R. Connolly‘s surprise investigative visits to BPS cafeterias earlier this year and the reported 280 cases of out-of-date food in 40 BPS cafeterias:

The (Food) Dating Game

We all have played the dating game. That is, the Food Label Dating Game. It’s when you find that a package of raw chicken breasts in the back of the refrigerator and the date has expired, and thus, the game begins. Should I cook it and eat it? Should I toss it? Will I get sick if I eat it?

Keep in mind that the date on the food package does not refer to food safety, but to the quality of the food. In other words, this is the date in which you should consume the product in order to enjoy it at its best quality. Whenever you see a date on the label, there must be a phrase next to the date that tells you how to interpret it.

If there is “Sell By” next to the date, you should purchase the product on or before that date. If there is “Best if Used By” or “Use By” next to it, this refers to the date by which you should consume the product in order to enjoy it at its best quality. If you don’t plan to consume a product by its Use By date, you can freeze it. However, once frozen, the Use By date doesn’t apply.

To help you to decide if you should eat it or toss it, the FDA has created a handy list to help you make a decision. If you are still unsure, error on the cautious side.

When it doubt, toss it out.

Joan can be reached at salgeblake@bu.edu or @joansalgeblake.

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