Smarter is unveiling its FridgeCam, a refrigerator camera that can tell you when your food is about to expire or when you are running low on groceries.
The London-based company unveiled the product — which is part of the ever-growing Internet of Things (making everyday objects smart and connected) — at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.
Smarter’s FridgeCam is a wireless camera with an app that allows users to see the contents of their fridge from anywhere, receive reminders about expiration dates, and pick up groceries that are running low.
Scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2017, the Smarter FridgeCam was designed to help address the global food waste crisis by notifying consumers of approaching expiration dates and suggesting ways to use foods before they go bad.
Additional features include alerts when the refrigerator temperature ventures outside the ideal range, notifications when food items are removed from the fridge, and auto-replenish ordering via the user’s preferred online grocer.
Geo-location reminders will alert the user when a grocery store is nearby, so milk, eggs, or other essentials can be purchased. The Smarter FridgeCam will sell for $150.
Above: Smarter’s FridgeCam notifies you when items are about to expire.
Image Credit: Smarter
Christian Lane, creator of Smarter, launched his first company at 19 with the backing of investors from Dragon’s Den, the U.K. version of Shark Tank. Christian launched Smarter in 2013, with the goal of making people’s lives easier through connected technology. He is the recipient of 2015 Great Britain Young Entrepreneur of the Year, London Design Awards, and other accolades for his IoT contributions.
“We are very excited to showcase our FridgeCam with its full range of functions for the first time anywhere in the world,” Lane said in a statement. “We created the FridgeCam to not only save people money, time, and energy, but also tackle food waste head-on in the process. In the U.S., average households can waste anywhere between $1,365 to $2,275 of food every year.”
Smarter’s other products, the iKettle and Smarter Coffee Maker, are sold in more than 1,000 stores in the U.K. and Europe. By the end of 2017, Smarter expects to become a global connected platform that connects consumers to their kitchens, making grocery shopping and food waste a thing of the past.
Smarter is self-funded and it has 20 employees.
Samsung revealed a new smart fridge on Monday that could solve the age-old problem of getting to the store without your shopping list. The Family Hub can beam a list of the food stored inside to a smartphone anywhere in the world.
Continuing the Internet of Things (IoT) trend that promises to push online connectivity into household appliances, Samsung’s fridge is an all-singing, all-dancing machine with a 21.5-inch 1080p display on its door, speakers for listening to music, and even a camera inside to watch food expire in real time. Users can leave each other notes, display recipes and monitor the food intake of other family members — or roommates.
Samsung even promises the fridge will hook up to other IoT appliances through the company’s SmartThings platform. Compatible devices will connect up to the fridge, transforming it into an all-in-one hub for controlling various switches and lights throughout the house.
Samsung’s “Family Hub” smart fridge has speakers and a 21.5-inch display. Photo: Samsung
The company doesn’t have the best track record with smart fridges, however. In August, researchers discovered a way to attack Samsung’s RF28HMELBSR smart fridge and expose a user’s Google credentials to rogue hackers. The fridge’s implementation of SSL security left it vulnerable to attacks.
Customers also complained that another one of the company’s fridges was unable to connect to Google Calendar for over a year. Google changed its calendar API, which the fridge uses to communicate with Google’s service, which means the RF4289HARS model in question needed an update to restore access.
Samsung has yet to reveal pricing and release dates, but the Family Hub has some unique and interesting ideas for the growing market of IoT kitchen appliances. The question remains of whether the company will be able to shake the bad publicity that has plagued its previous entries, however.
You stand in front of the refrigerator staring at a “sell by” date on food and have the internal debate: Do I throw it in the trash or take my chances?
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
You’re not the only one. Upwards of 91 percent of consumers have thrown food out based on the dates on packaging. But the dating system isn’t as clear as it seems. Nobody wants food poisoning — no fun — but few people want to waste food, either.
Let’s get some clarity.
- Toss Or Keep? The Truth About Expiration Dates On Food
- Locked in an Expiration Date Stalemate
- On the Other Hand…
- 1. “Expiration dates” are chosen by manufacturers with little to no oversight.
- 2. A lot of these labels mean the same thing.
- 3. …Except when those labels mean something different.
- 4. Many factors play into food spoilage, so there’s no one date on which a product becomes unsafe.
- 5. Your senses tell you way more about food safety than any label ever could.
- Creamy Wheat Cereal
- What Is Cream of Wheat, Exactly?
- Is Expired Food Really Bad for You?
- 10 Foods You Can Eat Past The Expiration Date, So Don’t Clean Out The Fridge Just Yet
- 1. Bread
- 2. Condiments
- 3. Eggs
- 4. Pre-bagged Produce
- 5. Yogurt
- 6. Vitamins and Supplements
- 7. Dry Pasta
- 8. Cereal
- 9. Frozen Food
- 10. Cheese and Butter
- Do you eat foods even after they have expired?
What the dates mean
Federal law does not require food dating in most cases, but 20 states do have laws about dates. In many cases, manufacturers add dates voluntarily.
In general, perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy get dates. But those dates aren’t always about spoilage. Some dates simply inform retailers when products are at their best for freshness, taste and texture.
The label types vary:
- The “Sell by” date indicates how long a store should display a product on its shelves. But foods are still flavorful and safe to eat several days after this date if you store them properly.
- The “Best if used by” date comes straight from manufacturers. The product will be freshest and have the best taste and texture if you eat it by this date. But this date does not refer to food safety.
- The “Use by” date also comes from manufacturers. It’s the last date for peak quality. After this date, taste, texture and quality may go downhill, even if food safety does not.
- The “Expiration” date is the only packaging date related to food safety. If this date has passed, throw the food out.
How long will it last?
Still confused or concerned? Use the following rules of thumb for foods in your fridge or pantry.
- Milk is typically safe for two to three days after the “use by” date. Keep it in the back of the fridge, where temperatures are typically coldest.
- Butter will keep for two to three weeks after purchase.
- Margarine will last for four to six months after purchase.
- Eggs are safe for three to five weeks after purchase. Keep them in the back of the fridge, where temperatures are typically coldest, rather than in the door.
- Chicken, ground meat and ground poultry will last for one to two days after purchase.
- Pre-cooked poultry should keep for three to four days.
- Fish will last one to two days in the refrigerator after purchase.
- Luncheon meat is safe for two to three weeks when it remains unopened. Use within three to four days after opening.
- Dry pasta will last for one to two years after purchase.
- Canned fruits and vegetables will last indefinitely. However, that rule goes out the window if they’re exposed to freezing temperatures or temperatures above 90°F. And be wary of damaged, dented or rusty packaging.
Also, remember that if you freeze something, it will last indefinitely, even if not at peak freshness, taste or texture.
Above all else, let common sense — and your senses —be your guide. If something smells rotten, curdles or turns a suspicious color, toss it in the trash.
Contributor: Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD
Clearly, this lack of clarity has implications for both the health of the environment and the health of the nation. What you don’t eat, you’ll end up binning, even if you could have safely eaten it; and what you don’t know not to eat could make you sick. A joint report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School in 2013 said that 40% of American food goes uneaten each year, and the disorienting effect of the US date labelling system is in large part to blame. At the same time, said the report, that system fails to convey important food safety information, “despite the appearance of doing so”.
Scott Nash … not afraid of old yoghurt. Photograph: Tamzin B Smith
British rules are clearer. The use-by date concerns safety (ignore it and you could get food poisoning), while the best-before date is about quality (you’re probably fine to eat it afterwards; it may just no longer taste or look as good). Of course, “afterwards” here doesn’t necessarily mean indefinitely: best-before dates are applied to both long-life products (biscuits, say, or Marmite) and very fresh ones, such as bread and eggs, which can go off. Only, it’s really obvious when they do (they dry out, they smell bad, they go green), so it’s easy for you to avoid eating something that might make you ill. (For uncracked eggs, use the bowl of water test: if it sinks, it is good; if it floats, it is bad.) In other words, a best-before date means that you, like Nash, have what it takes (your senses, and common sense) to make the call. The main caveat is that the accuracy of that best-before date depends on your abiding by any storage and “once opened” guidance on the packaging.
Yet date labelling has been accused of generating both confusion and food waste in the UK, too, or of simply being ignored. As recent research by the makers of the food-waste app Too Good To Go shows, British home cooks threw away a whopping 720m eggs in 2018, with one in three saying they will bin any carton that is out of date. Yet eggs in the UK carry a best-before date, not a use-by.
All those discarded eggs show that most people still don’t understand the difference. If 74% of respondents to a 2016 Women’s Institute (WI) survey knew that “use by” was about safety, only 45% knew that “best before” wasn’t. The waste reduction charity Wrap has found that as much as 30% of the food binned for being “past date” had a best-before; ie, it probably didn’t need to be binned. And we throw away an awful lot of food in the UK: upwards of 7m tonnes a year. Clearly, understanding dates is crucial.
Andrew Parry of Wrap says that a lot of thought goes into how a business decides on a date: what something is made of; where and how it is made; how hygienic the space in which it is made is; how consumers will treat it; how cold (or not) their fridges will be. Wrap’s research has found that only one in three of our fridges is cold enough (at 5C or lower); a degree can shave a day off the life of something. And then there is the question of liability. The microbiological risk assessment that products have to go through is hefty; businesses have to provide “robust evidence”, says the Food Standards Agency (FSA). So, sometimes a very conservative use-by date is, as Parry puts it, just a business being overly cautious. Nash thinks businesses might be being more than cautious: “At best are a neurotic, cover-your-ass thing; at worst, it could be planned obsolescence.” The food industry is in the business of selling you food, after all: the more you throw away, the more you’ll need to buy. Parry agrees that manufacturers’ main job is to sell food, but says that for the most part they actually want the longest shelf-life possible.
He, along with WI vice-chair Ann Jones, the British Nutrition Foundation and the FSA are categorical: as a consumer, you don’t ignore a use-by date. The pathogens that cause food poisoning, from listeria (which the NHS states is found most commonly in things such as butter, cooked meats, smoked salmon and certain soft cheeses) and salmonella (meat and poultry, eggs) to campylobacter (raw milk, raw chicken) and E coli (meat, raw dairy, raw leafy vegetables) are undetectable without a microscope. Even when these bacteria have grown to dangerous levels, food could still look and smell just fine.
Wrap surveys businesses to check whether they’re “absolutely sure” (as Parry puts it) that their products need to carry a use-by date. It has had notable success with hard cheeses and fruit juices – more than 95% of each now have best-before dates after the tech guys in each sector did new tests and realised they didn’t need use-by dates. Which means, as a harried home cook, you are no longer on the clock to use them up quickly or face sending them to landfill. You can just use your nose.
Toss Or Keep? The Truth About Expiration Dates On Food
In September 2013, environmental advocacy group the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) lobbed a bombshell into the heart of the American food system.
The NRDC’s targets were tiny lines of print on packaged foods. They say things like “use by,” “sell by,” and “best before.” These date labels on food were—as they remain—super-confusing. They even include “enjoy by,” which seems a little presumptuous, like naming an apple Red Delicious. We’ll be the judge of that, thanks.
Forty percent of the food supply in the U.S. ends up in a landfill or a garbage disposal.
Consumers tend to interpret these disparate food labels in just one way, according to the NRDC: If there’s a date printed on a can or a box or a package, that’s the date the food inside becomes unfit for human consumption. So it goes into the trash—even though most of it remains totally safe to eat.
According to that explosive NRDC report, The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America, about 40 percent of the food supply in the U.S. ends up in a landfill or a garbage disposal—not in the bellies of, say, the 15 percent of U.S. households that were food insecure in 2011. (The United States Department of Agriculture places the food-loss rate at a still-whopping 30 percent.)
Either way, the authors of the NRDC report are clear about a major reason we waste so much food: “confusion around food expiration dates,” they write.
Locked in an Expiration Date Stalemate
That bombshell the NRDC tossed in 2013 has yet to detonate. Things haven’t improved much since the report’s release, at least not in terms of solid legislation. Admittedly, the situation isn’t all gloomy; two powerful industry groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, recently recommended that manufacturers adopt common language for these labels. Ultimately, though, the decision remains in the hands of the companies that sell the food.
More importantly, we’re still waiting for a cultural shift that diminishes our fear of past-date foods.
“Here in America, we’re a little crazy about it,” nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto tells HealthyWay, describing the American propensity to throw out food based solely on sell-by and use-by dates.
There’s definitely something unique at work in the American hurry to ditch food. The average consumer in the U.S. wastes 10 pounds of food for every 1 pound trashed by the average Southeast Asian consumer, according to The Dating Game report.
On the Other Hand…
Around the same time as the NRDC researchers were putting together their report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that every year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from the U.S. food supply. Of those estimated 48 million victims of food poisoning, 128,000 end up in the hospital, and 3,000 lose their lives.
We’re not saying that all (or even any) of these cases involve a package of something past its sell-by date. But clearly there’s a balancing act to maintain. On the one hand, we must stop wasting food. On the other, consumers must feel safe with their supermarket choices.
The tightrope between these gulfs is where regulatory agencies should work to create fair, safe, coherent, and legally binding food-dating rules. But they haven’t, and it doesn’t appear that they will anytime soon.
H.R. 5298, the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016—which would standardize both quality dates and safety dates on packaged food from sea to shining sea—went to committee on May 19, 2016. That was the day Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced it. The bill has languished ever since.
The fate of that bill isn’t even the most bonkers thing about the issue, which lies at an unlikely and volatile intersection between health, ecology, and commerce. Here’s the truth about food expiration dates in the U.S.:
1. “Expiration dates” are chosen by manufacturers with little to no oversight.
So, surely the Food and Drug Administration or the USDA are on this issue, right? Not really.
Expiration dates are entirely made up.
“Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations,” says the USDA’s FAQ about the situation. That agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) did recently come out in favor of “best if used by” labels, but without legislative backup, that remains just a friendly suggestion.
Dr. Michelle Davenport, who holds a PhD in nutrition, is co-founder of Raised Real, a start-up that supplies parents with organic, unprocessed baby foods and the means to prepare them. She reiterates that expiration dates are completely controlled by the companies that sell the food.
“Expiration dates are entirely made up,” she says.
The FDA backs up her claim. The agency states on their own site that, “ entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. There are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for open dating in the United States. As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases used on labels to describe quality dates.”
2. A lot of these labels mean the same thing.
Despite the USDA’s support of a common “best if used by” label, that wide variety of phrases remains in use. You’ve still got your “expires on” and your “use by” and your “enjoy by.” But according to FSIS, these are all measures of food quality, not of food safety. These are two separate issues, as you’ll realize the next time you get hungry with nothing delicious lying around.
“The quality of perishable products may deteriorate after the date passes,” reports FSIS. “However, such products should still be safe if handled properly. Consumers must evaluate the quality of the product prior to its consumption to determine if the product shows signs of spoilage.”
Food processing companies have a vested interest in being conservative with their quality dates. After all, their brand is at stake—you might think twice about Nabisco’s quality control if you opened a package of stale Oreos.
“ all about the brand, protecting the brand,” says Rissetto. “You can eat eggs like three weeks after the sell-by date.”
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources agrees. On the UNL Food blog, Alice Henneman and Joyce Jensen write, “For best quality, use eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of the date you purchase them. The ‘sell-by’ date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs are perfectly safe to use.”
Thirty-two percent of freshwater usage in the U.S. goes toward growing the crops we may toss out with the kitty litter. And yet we’ve just learned that the sell-by date is often just a means to protect a brand—not consumers’ safety. Is that branding really worth such an epic waste of the total food supply?
When we confuse food quality dates with safety dates, the question only gets thornier.
3. …Except when those labels mean something different.
The only real difference in the current crop of expiration labels is that between “use by” and its analogues and “sell by.” The latter tells grocers when they should stop trying to sell a given product, because it might not be in the shape consumers have come to inspect if they sell it much later—see the above discussion of brand protection.
Like “sell by,” though, “use by” is not an indication of food safety. It’s just the manufacturer’s best guess about when the quality of the product might start to dip.
And there’s a reason companies don’t put food-spoilage dates on their products (with the possible exception of meats). For most of the items on the grocery store shelf, it’s just impossible to tell.
4. Many factors play into food spoilage, so there’s no one date on which a product becomes unsafe.
Manufacturers can’t predict how you’ll handle food once you buy it, so there’s no real way for them to tell you when it will become actively unsafe to eat. After all, spoiled food usually doesn’t taste good, but it won’t always make you sick.
“There are two types of bacteria that can be found on food,” reports a USDA fact sheet on food product dating, available for download here.
According to the fact sheet, those types are “pathogenic bacteria, which cause foodborne illness, and spoilage bacteria, which cause foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant characteristics such as an undesirable taste or odor making the food not wholesome, but do not cause illness.”
The report goes on to note something that seems fairly obvious: “Food spoilage can occur much faster if it is not stored or handled properly.”
The most important factor in food safety is exposure to pathogens, which can happen even to the freshest food products in your grocery cart. Beyond that, there’s how you treat the product on a day-to-day basis. Take milk, which is kind of infamous for curdling on you just before you take a giant gulp from the carton.
“There are a lot of factors there,” says Bryan Roof, a host of Cook’s Country and executive food editor at Cook’s Country Magazine. “Were you on vacation and the refrigerator door was closed the whole time so there were no temperature fluctuations for five days? Or was out on the counter every day with the cereal?”
Two cartons packaged and shipped on the same day could go to two households, with two very different results regarding food safety. You just can’t nail down a single, true expiration date that tells you when a product will definitely start making you sick.
5. Your senses tell you way more about food safety than any label ever could.
It doesn’t much matter what the labels say, at least not yet. The best way to determine when food is no good to eat is to do what animals have done since they crawled out of the primordial ooze: Trust your senses.
If this looks or smells like poison, do not eat it. If it’s just a bit stale, well, how hungry are you?
“Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria,” states that USDA fact sheet. “If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten.”
Rissetto recommends the same sniff-test to her clients when they worry about food spoilage.
“The smell is going to tell you if it’s good or not,” she says. “And if you get chicken and it’s gray, you shouldn’t eat it … I would tell people to use their brains. You’ve got noses. You’ve got eyes.”
We’d feel a lot safer if there were also very clear guidelines on packaged foods. Maybe not a label that says “This will definitely become poisonous in 16 minutes,” but something—even if it’s just “Check for rot before consuming.”
A great first step would be to differentiate between quality and safety when putting expiration dates on foods.
But until that happens, we have a suggestion that should cover every situation: just one label that reads, “If this looks or smells like poison, do not eat it. If it’s just a bit stale, well, how hungry are you?”
Creamy Wheat Cereal
This popular Creamy Wheat Cereal gets it popularity from its delicious taste and its multi-purpose uses. For variety, add Augason Farms freeze dried fruits like strawberries, raspberries or blueberries to your Creamy Wheat Cereal. You’ll also find this product can be added to muffin and cookie recipes for additional nutrients and flavor. There are several ways to enjoy this delicious cereal, which is why it’s perfect for everyday use, in your 72 hour kit, stored with your long term food storage or used as emergency food if a need arises.
- Use for long term food storage, emergency preparedness and survival food
- Keep on hand for everyday use or camping
- No refrigeration necessary
- Large institutional can with lid
- Shelf life up to 10 years*
|Calories per Serving:||180|
|Container Size:||No. 10 can with lid|
|Net Weight:||3 lbs 15 oz (1.8 kg)|
|Shelf Life:||Up to 10 years*|
*Product good up to 10 years when unopened. Best when stored in a cool, dry and dark place at temperatures between 55° F and 70° F. Actual shelf life may vary based on individual storage conditions.
What Is Cream of Wheat, Exactly?
If you’ve ever dabbled in the wide world of porridge, you’ve probably heard about Cream of Wheat. But what is Cream of Wheat, and what’s the difference between Cream of Wheat and oatmeal? It’s the question you’ve asked yourself many times, certainly! Let’s start with the first part: In the same way that Kleenex is a brand name for tissues, Cream of Wheat is the brand name for farina. And what is farina? According to Bob’s Red Mill, which manufactures its own white wheat farina, it’s a type of milled wheat “produced by gently cracking the grain and then air purifying to remove most of the lighter-weight bran particles from the heavier endosperm.”
Now that you’ve digested the presence of the word “endosperm” (just a creepy botany term for “seed part that stores food”), let’s continue. The endosperm is the same part of the wheat kernel that’s used to make pasta, so farina is fairly fine in texture. When cooked on a stovetop with water or milk, farina becomes “a creamy, mellow, sweet tasting porridge,” write the folks at Bob’s Red Mill. That’s in stark contrast to the texture of oatmeal, which is generally on the chunkier and chewier side. Oatmeal is also made with oats rather than wheat, which is perhaps the main difference between these two types of hot cereals, and though oatmeal can be gluten-free, Cream of Wheat is, almost by definition, packed with gluten.
Making hot cereal with farina isn’t anything new, however, nor is Cream of Wheat. The actual brand Cream of Wheat was started in 1893 at a small flour mill in Grand Forks, North Dakota. According to B&G Foods, which now owns Cream of Wheat, the product was created by head miller Tom Amidon who wanted to create a breakfast porridge. “Amidon’s ‘porridge’ was that part of the wheat taken from the first break rolls of the flour mill,” explain the folks at B&G Foods. “Referred to as ‘the top of the stream,’ this is the source of flour of the highest grade,” hence the name Cream of Wheat. The hot cereal took off, and the rest is breakfast history.
These days, Cream of Wheat is enriched with calcium carbonate and ferric phosphate, which improves the nutritional content and makes it a source of both calcium and iron. (Though, for what it’s worth, a cup of cooked oatmeal does have more calcium and more iron than a cup of cooked Cream of Wheat, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database.)
But you can eat Cream of Wheat either sweet, with a little bit of sugar or maple syrup, or savory, with butter, salt, even cheese. (Our own Kat Kinsman would probably encourage you to put some hot sauce in it.) You can make Cream of Wheat with either water or milk. Much like any other porridge, it’s a dish that’s super adaptable to what you like to eat, which means that Cream of Wheat can be whatever you want it to be.
Is Expired Food Really Bad for You?
Other language surrounding dates is vaguer (and okay to ignore). First, don’t worry about “sell by” dates. They’re intended to help stores know how long to display a product, Costello says. “Best by” dates, on the other hand, refer to how long an unopened product will remain fresh, Costello says. “Best by” dates-sometimes listed as “best before,” “best if used by,” and “durable life date”-are totally fine to consume past that date (because, let’s be real, eating a few stale Wheat Thins won’t kill you).
If the nitty-gritty code behind all of those terms just isn’t sticking, pay attention to the categories of food products instead. “The shorthand I usually give people is that foods they tell pregnant women to avoid are good foods to pay attention to the date,” Gunders says. That includes deli meat, unpasteurized dairy products, pre-packaged sandwiches, and hot dogs and sausages that are not fully cooked. All of these have a high risk of being contaminated with listeria, which can multiply even during refrigeration.
As for the rest? “Most foods are fine to eat well past the date as long as they taste, look, and smell fine,” Gunders says. Even the dates on pasteurized dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, can be ignored because the pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria. Not even soured milk that’s been in the fridge for months will give you food poisoning, Gunders says. Will it make you gag? Sure. But other than a nasty taste, it’s fine.
If you have a question in your mind about whether a food is safe to eat or not, err on the side of caution and pitch it. Or cook it. Going the extra step of heating things will kill bacteria and make most products fine even after that increased risk, Gunders says. Salmonella, for instance, is destroyed after a food is cooked to 150 degrees or higher. Use your common sense, though. If something is green and slimy and completely unappetizing, you’re better off tossing it. You won’t get food poisoning, Gunders says, but it might not sit well in your stomach.
- By By Moira Lawler
Getty Images / Getty Images
Use-by dates are contributing to millions of pounds of wasted food each year.
A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic says Americans are prematurely throwing out food, largely because of confusion over what expiration dates actually mean.
Most consumers mistakenly believe that expiration dates on food indicate how safe the food is to consume, when these dates actually aren’t related to the risk of food poisoning or foodborne illness. Food dating emerged in the 1970s, prompted by consumer demand as Americans produced less of their own food but still demanded information about how it was made. The dates solely indicate freshness, and are used by manufacturers to convey when the product is at its peak. That means the food does not expire in the sense of becoming inedible. For un-refrigerated foods, there may be no difference in taste or quality, and expired foods won’t necessarily make people sick.
But according to the new analysis, words like “use by” and “sell by” are used so inconsistently that they contribute to widespread misinterpretation — and waste — by consumers. More than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely, and 40% of the U.S. food supply is tossed–unused–every year because of food dating.
(MORE: Food Safety: CDC Report Shows Rates of Foodborne Illnesses Remain Largely Unchanged)
Eggs, for example, can be consumed three to five weeks after purchase, even though the “use by” date is much earlier. A box of mac-and-cheese stamped with a ‘use by’ date of March 2013 can still be enjoyed on March 2014, most likely with no noticeable changes in quality.
“We are fine with there being quality or freshness dates as long as it is clearly communicated to consumers, and they are educated about what that means,” says study co- author Emily Broad Leib, the director of Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic. “There should be a standard date and wording that is used. This is about quality, not safety. You can make your own decision about whether a food still has an edible quality that’s acceptable to you.”
(MORE: Is It Worth Buying Organic? Maybe Not)
Because food dating was never about public health, there is no national regulation over the use of the dates, although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) technically have regulatory power over the misbranding of products. The only federally required and regulated food dating involves infant formula, since the nutrients in formula lose their potency as time goes on.
What regulation does exist occurs at the state level — and all but nine states in the U.S. have food dating rules but these vary widely. “What’s resulted from is really a patchwork of all sorts of different rules for different products and regulations around them,” says study co-author Dana Gunders, a staff scientist with the NRDC’s food and agriculture program. “Sometimes a product needs a date, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a product cannot be sold after a different date. Or there is no requirement at all. Even with different categories there is so much variability.” The result is a confused public — and tons of wasted food.
(MORE: Bad Food: Illnesses from Imported Foods Are on the Rise, CDC Says)
Correcting these entrenched misconceptions, however, won’t be easy. The report authors say the re-education could start with a clearer understanding of what the dates mean.
- “Use by” and “Best by”: These dates are intended for consumer use, but are typically the date the manufacturer deems the product reaches peak freshness. It’s not a date to indicate spoilage, nor does it necessarily signal that the food is no longer safe to eat.
- “Sell by”: This date is only intended to help manufacturers and retailers, not consumers. It’s a stocking and marketing tool provided by food makers to ensure proper turnover of the products in the store so they still have a long shelf life after consumers buy them. Consumers, however, are misinterpreting it as a date to guide their buying decisions. The report authors say that “sell by” dates should be made invisible to the consumer.
Jena Roberts, vice president for business development at the food testing firm, National Food Lab, studies “shelf-stable” properties of foods to help manufacturers determine what date indicates when their products are at their best. “The food has to be safe, that’s a given,” says Roberts. “ want to make sure the consumer eats and tastes a high quality product.”
But she acknowledges that even if the food is consumed after its ideal quality date, it’s not harmful. A strawberry-flavored beverage may lose its red color, the oats in a granola bar may lose its crunch, or the chocolate clusters in a cereal may start to ‘bloom’ and turn white. While it may not look appetizing, the food is still safe to eat. “It’s a confusing subject, the difference between food quality and food safety. Even in the food industry I have colleagues who are not microbiologists who get confused,” she says.
(MORE: How to Stop the Superbugs)
The report authors aren’t against food date labeling. The system was created to provide more information to consumers, but it’s important that people know how to use that data. “The interest is still there on the part of the consumers, but we want this to be clearly communicated so consumers are not misinterpreting the data and contributing to a bunch of waste,” says Gunders.
While the food industry could make changes to date labels voluntarily — such as having the dates read when food is most likely to spoil — the study authors also call for legislation by Congress to develop national standards that would standardize a single set of dating requirements.
Such standards may already be in the works; following the release of the report, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and author of the Freshness Disclosure Act says she will be reintroducing legislation to Congress that calls for establishing a consistent food dating system in the U.S.
“I look forward to reintroducing this legislation this Congress and working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fix this glaring gap in our nation’s food safety laws so that American consumers have the information they need,” Lowey said in a statement.
You can read the full report and recommendations, here.
In the meantime, for tips on what expiration dates really mean, see our examples, here.
I’m a little confused by all the expiration dates on my food. Why do some foods have a “Best Before,” “Sell By” or “Use By” expiration date? Will those tell me when the food is unsafe to eat, or are some foods okay past their so-called expiration date?
Eating Expired Food
You’re right, while the labels seem understandable, they actually don’t tell you a whole lot about whether you can or cannot eat the food its stamped on. Here’s a brief look at what expiration dates mean, and how to tell whether your food has gone bad.
Expiration Dates Refer to Quality, Not Safety
Generally, you’ll see three types of expiration dates on your food, and they all mean slightly different things. However, contrary to popular belief, they refer to the quality of the food, not the safety. Here’s what each one means:
- Sell By: This date tells the store how long to keep the item on their shelves. If it reaches the date before its sold, the store will pull it from the shelves. It represents the last day the food is at its peak quality of freshness, taste, and consistency. It will still be safe to eat after the Sell By date (how long? See the section below).
- Best If Used By: Again, this merely refers to when the quality of the item starts to go downhill. Generally, you may notice a difference in taste or consistency after that date, but it will still be safe to eat. For example, sour cream may become a bit more sour, or peanut butter may start to experience some harmless oil separation in the bottle.
- Use By: Yep, you guessed it—this is pretty much the same as “Best Used By”. The Use By date is when the product loses its peak quality. It’s still safe to eat for a little while.
There are other kinds of dates floating around, like the “Born on” date of beer (three months after which it can start to taste funky), “Guaranteed Fresh” on baked goods (after which they’ll likely be stale, but okay to eat), and more. The most important takeaway is that this almost always refers to freshness and quality, not safety.
So When Does Food Actually Go Bad?
While you can use most of the foods past their printed date, the USDA recommends that you eat food before its “Use By” or “Best If Used By” date to be on the safe side. For foods with a “Sell By” date, you have a pretty set amount of time before the food goes bad. Milk will usually go bad about a week after the Sell By date, while eggs are okay for 3 to 5 weeks. See the table to the right for the USDA’s recommendations, or head to their product dating page for even more foods.
Remember that this all assumes you’ve properly stored these items—if you’ve left a perishable item out on the counter for two hours, it may not be safe to eat anymore, so you should disregard the date and throw it away.
Lastly, don’t discount the ever-reliable smell test. Not sure if the milk and eggs have gone bad, or if a product is still okay a day or two after the “Use By” date? Give it a whiff and if it smells okay, it’s probably okay. And if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to eat something before its expiration date, you can always freeze it before that date hits to make it last longer. for more information.
I used to take expiration dates very seriously. I froze my ground beef before the “Use By” date and if my milk’s “Best If Used By” date was yesterday, I’d toss it. The boxed stuffing mix that expired last month? In the garbage. But after researching the different types of “expiration” labels, I learned that food actually lasts longer than I thought. In fact, here are nine foods that will never expire.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food expiration dates refer to food quality, not food safety. Federal regulations do not require that expiration dates be put on meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, cans, and boxed foods (baby formula is the only product that requires an expiration date). They are added as a helpful guide to consumers and retailers. Here are the three most common labels:
- Best If Used By—This date suggests when a product will be at peak quality. It will still be safe to consume after that date, but the flavor and texture quality will start to go down.
- Use By—This date is usually found on more perishable items, like meat. It’s still OK to consume the product for a short period after the date, but don’t wait too long.
- Sell By—This date tells retailers when the product should be off the shelves. Sales are one way grocery stores try to get older inventory into consumers’ carts, and it’s usually pretty effective.
“Use by” dates are a great guide for people like you and me, but it comes at a price. A USDA report states that Americans waste about 30 percent of food every year. Part of that is because we follow expiration dates too closely and end up throwing out perfectly good food. It’s such a shame. Luckily, we can change.
Use your best judgment to determine whether or not food should be tossed. Instead of looking at the date, look at the actual food. Does the color look right? Is the odor funky? Has the texture changed? Knowing what food is supposed to look, smell, and feel like is a life skill we all should know. It will stop you from eating food that’s gone bad and prevent you from tossing food too early. To help you from tossing things that are still good to eat, find out the 11 foods you’re definitely throwing out too soon.
10 Foods You Can Eat Past The Expiration Date, So Don’t Clean Out The Fridge Just Yet
I grew up in a house where it was completely normal to slice the green fuzz off a block of cheese, then continue making your sandwich with it. But when I went to college, several of my friends found my nonchalance about expiration dates a bit alarming. Despite what people may think, however, there are foods that you can eat past the expiration dates on their labels. Expiration dates aren’t always accurate representations of a food’s shelf life, and those labels actually cause millions of pounds of food waste every year. With one in six Americans suffering from hunger, it’s startling to think of that much food getting thrown away because people are misinformed. Of course you don’t want to eat something that’s unsafe or could make you sick, but you can save money and reduce waste if you stop living by the date you see stamped on your yogurt cartons.
Most people don’t understand expiration dates or what they really mean. The common misconception is that once the sell-by date on an item has passed, the food becomes inedible, but that isn’t always the case. Food products are actually labeled with expiration dates to give consumers information about the food’s freshness. In other words, most foods don’t “go bad” or become unhealthy to eat when they’ve reached their sell-by dates, but they will start to lose quality in taste. When it comes to eating food that is expired according to its label, the most important thing to do is use your common sense. If it smells bad, looks rotten, or otherwise doesn’t seem right, then don’t eat it. Never consume something you’re unsure of. But don’t waste food, either. There are plenty of things that are safe long after their sell-by dates.
Maybe you aren’t the type to eat around the mold, but here are 10 things you can safely eat past their expiration dates.
If you think about how cheese is made and aged, you might be more apt to believe it’s the kind of food that doesn’t always go bad after its expiration date. Even if there is a little mold growing, consuming “expired” cheese is perfectly safe — as long as you cut off the mold. Don’t let your precious cheddar go to waste ever again.
While it may begin to get a little stale, cereal has a true shelf life long beyond its printed expiration date. Like many foods, if it is stored properly — in this case, in a cool, dry place — cereal can last months after the sell-by date. The next time you see a sale on your favorite brand, don’t hesitate to stock up, because it will last you.
Although dry pasta already has a one-to-two-year shelf life, it can actually last much longer than that, because it doesn’t contain any water. As long as it is stored in a cool, dry place, dried pasta can last years after its expiration date. Fresh pasta, on the other hand, does contain water, and spoils more easily, but it can still be good past its date as well (about two to three weeks, usually, as long as it doesn’t have a spoiled odor to it).
It might get stale, but bread past its expiration date can be safely eaten, even if there is some slight mold on it. If the bread smells sour or spoiled, don’t eat it, but you can always slice a moldy end off and enjoy the rest of the loaf. Stale bread makes excellent French toast and croutons, so don’t toss it out because it’s “too old.”
Say goodbye to days of throwing out your half-eaten tub of yogurt, because this is another dairy product you can eat after its package labels it “expired.” Open yogurt will spoil sooner than unopened yogurt, but sealed yogurt will usually last one to two weeks past the sell-by date. When it comes to yogurt, you just have to ask: Does it smell right? Is there mold in it? If not, then feel free to proceed with making your smoothie.
Like bread, potato chips may get stale past their expiration date, but they are still perfectly safe to eat. If they are in an open bag, they’ll be alright for a few weeks, but if the bag is sealed, it can still be good months later … as if you’d have an uneaten bag of chips laying around for that long.
You know that white film that forms on old chocolate? It’s not mold. It’s what’s called “chocolate bloom” — either of the fat or sugar variety — and it can be safe to eat. If chocolate is stored in a cool place (70 degrees or below), it will outlast its sell-by date. But as with chips, what are the chances you’ll have chocolate for more than, like, five minutes?
I used to loathe spending so much money on condiments like ketchup, mayo, and jam, because I could never seem to use it all before it expired. That changed when I found out that many condiments, including salad dressing, are consumable after their sell-by dates. If they’re open, give them the old sniff test to see if they have spoiled. But if they’ve never been unsealed, condiments can be stored in your cupboard for longer than the package would have you believe.
If you don’t mind freezer burn, then frozen foods can be eaten long after their expiration dates. Freezing food is the easiest way to extend its shelf life, whether it be vegetables, pastries, or proteins. Go ahead and stock up on frozen pizza. You know you want to.
10. Prepackaged Produce
A little bruised cucumber or wilted lettuce never killed anyone, and neither did bagged salad eaten past its expiration date. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, it’s simple: If it’s rotten, don’t eat it.
I grew up in a household were it was totally acceptable to trim a small amount of mold off of bread, throw out the offending part, and eat the remainder of the loaf. As an adult, however, I’ve discovered that’s not how the majority of Americans were raised.
More than 90 percent of Americans throw out food prematurely according to one study, and at least 40 percent of food in the U.S. is discarded before use due to sell-by, use-by, and other food package dates. ATTN: has already written about the truth of these expire-by dates and given you tools to become a label decoding ninja. But are there any foods that can simply be considered safe, without having to interpret the labels, even if they have expired?
Not exactly — you still need to employ at least a “sniff test” — but here are 10 things that are generally OK to consume even after they’ve passed their expiration date.
While bread might go stale, it can definitely be eaten after its expiration date, unless it smells spoiled or sour. See a little mold? That’s okay, too, within reason. Just trim it off, and you can still enjoy the rest of the loaf. Stale bread is also great for making breadcrumbs, French toast, and a whole host of tasty treats.
Although the sell-by date may pass, unopened ketchup is usually safe to keep for at least a year — and six months, once opened — and items such as mustard and Worcestershire sauce can be kept longer. As with bread, just use your common sense: If it smells bad or looks funny, toss it. Otherwise, slather it on that hot dog.
Eggs can be tricky, because they certainly do expire and they can make you sick, but they are also frequently fine to eat after their sell-by date. But luckily, there’s also a simple way to test to see if they’re still edible: Place one egg at a time in a bowl of water to check its buoyancy. If it sinks, it’s still okay to eat. (The faster it sinks, the better.) If it floats or bobs up-and-down in the water, throw it out.
4. Pre-bagged Produce
With the number of E. Coli and other food-borne illness outbreaks linked to salad greens in recent years, you might be surprised to hear that prepackaged produce is usually fine to eat after the expiration date. Why? Because food dates actually indicate the freshness of food, not how safe the item is to consume. So if your greens are wilted (and not rotten), they are probably still fine.
While we’re talking about packaged items, yogurt is also something to think twice about before tossing; it’s usually good for up to two weeks after the sell-by date, especially if it’s unopened. And if you think about how yogurt is made — hint: healthy bacteria like lactobacillus bulgaricus — it might make more sense that it takes yogurt longer to go bad than the package dates would have you think.
6. Vitamins and Supplements
Vitamins and supplements aren’t even required to have an expiration date on their labels. So why do they? The best-by or use-by date simply indicates when the manufacturer feels that the product will be at maximum potency. Unless your supplements are growing mold or seem “off,” they’re probably fine, although they may have smaller concentrations of the active ingredients than they did when they were made.
7. Dry Pasta
This might be a good food to stock up on before the zombie apocalypse. Because dry pasta doesn’t contain any water, it can keep much longer than its labeled one-to-two-year shelf life. Just store it in a cool, dry place and it will likely still be safe to eat for years
Store your cereal the same way you do you dry pasta — in a cool, dry place — and although it may get a bit stale, it should last for up to six months beyond any date on the package. It’s great!
9. Frozen Food
If there’s a sale on T.V. dinners, go ahead and stock up — they’re unlikely to go bad, if stored properly. Freezing cold temperatures prevent food from spoiling and dramatically increase the shelf life of many items, so as long as the temperature remains stable, your frozen pizzas and chicken dinners will be fine long after they expire. You’ll just have to learn to tolerate the freezer burn.
10. Cheese and Butter
Hard cheeses are aged to begin with, which may ease your mind when you save what’s likely perfectly safe cheddar by trimming a little mold off. Butter is another dairy product with an extendable shelf life. It’s usually good for at least two weeks after the expiration date in the refrigerator or up to nine months if you stick it in the freezer.
Share your opinion
Do you eat foods even after they have expired?
No 17%Yes 83%
This is What Would Happen If, a close examination of mundane hypothetical situations. Each week, we look at something that you could do but probably never would, and take it to its logical endpoint. This week: What would happen if you ate a slice of moldy bread?
Mold strikes when you least expect, but in reality, you probably should have. Unlike rotten food it doesn’t smell. It chills on top, mocking you for not eating the thing it’s occupying sooner — a blemish on an otherwise perfectly fine loaf of bread.
Such is the borderline innocuousness of mold that you’ve most likely, at some point in your life, considered your options. Maybe it’s fine to eat? Maybe you’ll just cut off the mold and then eat the rest? Maybe you accidentally ate some and now you’re not sure if you should just finish that slice of moldy toast?
As with most things in life, there are no simple answers. Asking what would happen if you ate moldy bread is like asking what would happen if you drank pond water. It all depends on the pond you’re drinking from.
Randy Worobo, a professor of food microbiology at Cornell, does not recommend that you eat moldy bread. This isn’t because all mold is inherently toxic. It’s because the mold in your bread could be many types of mold. Mold spores can come from anywhere, and unless you’re a trained microbiologist like Worobo, it’s pretty dang hard to determine the benign mold from the bad.
“You can have mold contamination from the baking facility, your own kitchen,” says Worobo. “When you go into slicing off a piece of bread you go in multiple times. And every time you do that you expose the bread to mold spores that will ultimately grow and spoil the food.”
You could eat a slice of moldy bread one time, and it might be fine. But that doesn’t mean that moldy bread is just fine to eat all the time.
“Usually the risks are minimal,” says Worobo. “We actually recommend that if it’s moldy you throw it out just to be on the safe side.”
But where’s the fun in that? Let’s assume you don’t heed his advice.
In a worst case scenario, you eat a slice a bread inoculated with stachybotrys, a toxic house mold. This will, at the very least, mess with your respiratory system. “You can actually get irritations in the mouth, throat and nose,” he says.” “And if it’s a high enough concentration you can actually go into shock, hemorrhaging or necrosis.”
In a second scenario, the mold infesting your bread is actually one of the “good” molds that produces an antibiotic. “If you have a person who’s allergic to antibiotics and the bread is contaminated with an antibiotic-producing strain of mold, you could have an allergic reaction,” he says. Given the severity of the allergic reaction, symptoms could be as minor minor as itchy skin, or as severe as anaphylactic shock.
A third not-very-possible, but still-very-possible scenario involves you eating moldy bread on a regular basis. It doesn’t phase you, you really don’t feel like wasting bread, so you power on through. Here is where some of the long-term health risks of mold come into play. “Certain molds produce toxins, they’re called mycotoxins,” he says. “The thing is if you get a mycotoxigenic strain, they’re primarily carcinogens.” So, yes, in a way eating moldy bread could give you cancer. Tell all your friends.
You, of course, probably think yourself a mildly clever person. You can see where the mold is and isn’t on a slice of bread. You can just cut the moldy bits out and avoid everything bad we just discussed, right? Wrong, Worobo says.
“You can see the colony of mold, because usually there’s a coloration associated with it. What you can’t see is the spread of mold,” he says. “Mold spores are so light in color that once you see them the whole loaf of bread is now covered in spores.”
If you are going to try and salvage a moldy slice or a loaf, Worobo strongly recommends you get aggressive with how much you cut out.
“Cut it out aggressively, if you really want to be a cheapskate,” he says. “But bread is typically not that expensive.”
Serious Eat’s Guide To Making And Eating Bread
ESPN’s Dive Into The NBA’s Obsession With PB&J
The CDC’s Guide To Mold
What would happen if you stopped paying all of your bills?
Got a burning (hopefully not in an infected way) hypothetical question? Submit it to . And for more, check out our What Would Happen If archive.