The Rediculousness of Expiration and Best Used By Labels

 In an article about food wastage, John (@Indexer) brought up an excellent point. Stores and markets seem to have a love affair going with the use of expiration dates and “best used by” dates on almost anything they can think of putting the dates on. 

This leads to a great deal of needless waste. People will often not buy something that is beyond the best used by date stamped on the product. In turn, the stores will often throw away anything that is beyond those dates since people won’t buy them. 

Optimally, a best used by date is a guideline, but no more than this. Obviously, if a kind of food is highly perishable, such as milk, the dates are important. However, they often aren’t. 

I’ve even answered questions about this. Relatively recently, a person wanted to know if it was safe to use honey that had passed an expiration date printed on the label, for example. Honey has been found in Egyptian tombs that dated as over 4,000 years old. It was still edible. Honey doesn’t go bad. It will crystallize and may need to be heated and stirred to make it fluid again, but it is the only food known to man that never spoils. Putting an expiration date or a best used by date on a jar of honey is totally worthless. The honey is just as good before that date as it is ten years after that date has expired. 

John brought up another example; a bag of household coal with an expiration date. Although it might not be the same thing, I’ve seen barbecue briquettes in the US with expiration dates. Really? It is going to expire? Why? Most people don’t eat it, they burn it. Coal and charcoal can absorb water after a time, however, that only makes it a little harder to burn. The product is still good. A person might simply need to dry it out before use. That isn’t a big deal. Coal and charcoal don’t expire. 

These are only two of thousands of examples. I haven’t even touched on things like sauerkraut, which is cabbage pickled in vinegar. Eventually, it will degrade, but the vinegar keeps it edible for a very long time; up to years in a sealed container. 

Naturally, it is important to educate people so they know when the date is valid and when it isn’t. It might be better if they did away with the ‘best used by’ dates completely, but that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. 

Still, for those people who pay close attention to these dates, I’d strongly recommend giving it a reasonable amount of thought before refusing to purchase something because it has passed the date on the label. If you don’t do this, you are contributing to waste.

  • Be honest, do you check the expiration dates on food items in the store and let that influence your decision to purchase the product?

    • Yes
    • No
    • Only on highly pershable foods like milk


What do you think?

11 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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