2.18.2009

Best used by...

Max and I agree on almost everything. Our thoughts on spirituality, political persuasions, financial goals, and priorities seem so similar, I have, on occasion, wondered whether we share a strange psychic connection of heart and mind. However just the other day, I learned this cannot possibly be the case when my husband and I found ourselves in a rare, but serious, disagreement--the likes of which we have never before experienced.

We did not argue per se, but the events certainly put our live-and-let-live philosophy to the test--at least as far as I was concerned. In fact, I was so stunned by Max's view on this particular topic, it caused me to question his judgment in general.

What sparked such discord, you ask?

It was the "best used by date" inscribed on all the canned and pre-packaged foods, which I was getting ready to toss in the trash. Max, on the other hand, wondered why I was tossing away perfectly fine food.

To me, "best used by" is equivalent to the surgeon general's warning on cigarette packages. It's the skull and crossbones of the Food and Drug Administration, a creative euphemism for 'if you eat this after such and such day you will grow an extra pinky toe.' But to Max, the words "best used by" indicate suggestion only.

"It's best if the food is eaten by the date, but certainly not bad," he said.

"No, no, no!" I exclaimed. "It's no different than any other expiration date. Trust me, you don't want risk it."

Undeterred and to prove his point, Max decide to heat up a can of chicken noodle soup that had a best-used-by date of January 2009.

"You're not really going to EAT that?!?!" I exclaimed in a shrill and most dramatic tone! "You might DIE!!!"

But Max not only ate the soup, he chuckled even as he finished the last spoonful. "You see? It tasted perfectly fine," he insisted.

I was not convinced and am still keeping a watchful eye out for any strange growths on his feet. You never know.

Tell me what you think. Who's right? Are the words "best by used by" a helpful suggestion from food manufactures or an almost apocalyptic warning placed on cans to guard the health and well being of the entire world?

28 comments:

thedailysnark said...

This is funny to me because my husband and I got into a similar disagreement this weekend. It was over the Sell By date on milk. I was about to open a new milk and throw out the old one because it had been open for more than a week and I wasn't sure it was still good. He was upset because the carton said the Sell By date wasn't for a few more days. I patiently tried to explain that it only applies if the had not already been opened.

We went around and around for a while. It actually got a little heated until I asked him to actually try the milk. I'm sure you know how that turned out, right?

Chris said...

When I volunteered for a food bank, we would keep anything that was within 6 months of the expiration. I’m guessing eating a Jan 09 can of soup is more than OK.

kenju said...

I agree with Max on that one. Within reason, six months after that "best used by" date is fine.

Sizzle said...

I'm with you on this.

Sue Jacquette said...

I'm a chucker. Get rid of it. Why take the chance... but my mother doesn't believe anything goes bad. She didn't even know that eggs came with an expiration date. Eggs don't go bad?!?!

Tanya said...

There are quite a few 'dates' according to my merchandising brother in law.
'Best use by' means just that, it is best if used by...the date.
An 'expiration' date is is the date after which a product should be tossed.
A 'sell-by' or 'pull-by' date is used by manufacturers to tell grocers when to remove their product from the shelves. It has a bit of leeway built in eg cans about 6 months to a year, milk a week or so if refridgerated properly.
I've got to say after a few years in the pacific islands and here in Asia I am relaxed to the point of being horizontal about those dates things are stamped with and we almost never get sick. My mother used to say the more you expose yourself to the better your immune system will be....within reason of course!

Anonymous said...

For me, depends on the food. Canned nastiness filled with preservatives like canned soup I'd say within 6 months is fine. Those dates are usually more than 6 mos from purchase anyway, and often they've been made many months earlier. But for something like yogurt, milk, eggs, meat, tylenol, etc., I pitch it if it gets to the date.

Danie said...

LOL! I'm with Max on this one--sorry, Diane. I'm convinced that sour cream does not--ever--go bad. I'll still eat long, long, long after the expiration date.

Then again, I lived in India...so I'm not such a bacteria freak on this side of the world anymore.

eusmaca said...

Diane.. I need to give this one to Max ... sowwwry :(

I agree with him... now if the can of soup was pass the 6 month mark, then toss it is.

Has he grown anything out of the ordinary yet? :::wink:::

Jill said...

From another expat in India - where you're lucky if the expiration date on any can here is within 6 months to the current date...

"Best used by" is merely a suggestion...

oreneta said...

I have to confess I fall into the suggestion camp, though that said, there are limits, I'll go a few months past it, but not year, or probably not half a year....

A friend in the pharmacutical industry told me that best used by dates on medicines only indicate that the drugs get weaker....it also seems to me to be a great way to sell more drugs. Put a really conservative number on it, keeps the lawyers happy, and people have to by cold meds every year cause they've expired!

I ama little cynical sometimes though....

Connie said...

I with Max - that what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger! Ok, not that extreme...! But, best by is just that. I treat it like a 'sell by' or 'use by'. I even give expiration dates a little leeway, depending on the product. Manufacturers have to (for fear of lawsuits!) err on the side of safety, so they tend to be very conservative about dates.

I go by appearance and smell - no matter what the date. Esp. if the container is the slightest bit dinged or damaged.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

It's funny you mention this as I was discussing the same thing recently with someone. He was like Max - the date is just an unimportant guide, whereas I was a mixture of both sides. I will eat things a few days after the use by date as I figure they account for more time, but if it's something like MILK I won't even use it ON the use by date. I'm squeamish about spoilt milk. Chocolate though I'd eat any old time. :) Depends on the item for sure.

Yelli said...

I had to laugh out loud because the hubby and I disagree about this all of the time! It depends on the item but is really our only big disagreement! (well, except for his rolling of eyes at my shoe habit but he doesn't say much anymore) :)

However, out roles are reversed. I am more likely to use something whereas the hubby is not! :) LOL!

Cairo Typ0 said...

We tend to err on the side of caution and toss things when the label so instructs. But we tend to be the sorts fo people who obey the rules no matter how random they may be. :p

A Touch of Dutch said...

I think it's the manufacturer's way of getting you to go out & buy more of their product. If it's non-perishable, I don't throw out my foods if the date is one month past the recommended use by date. And I am not a cheapskate either ;-)

I think also this is a good way to keep supermarkets on their toes, having this date printed on packaging. You can tell a good store by whether or not they keep tabs on the quality of their foods.

But now if it's a perishable item and the best if used by date is already a few days past, I am skeptical and will throw it out without even giving it a try.

headbang8 said...

Do not keep post-use-by eggs in your refrigerator. They could explode at any minute.

Do not allow post-use-by cans in your cupboard. The the bottoms will heat up, and melt through the earth's crust all teh way to China.

Post-use-by chocolates will steal your credit card and go on a shopping spree.

Diane, I think you might relax a little about it. Especially in Europe, the labels are very conservative.

Claire said...

Veggies, fruit, bread, stuff like that I'll eat past the BB date, because you can geenral tell if they're OK or not. Meat and dairy get chucked.

Cxx

PapaScott said...

Take it from someone who deals with food professionally...

The expiration date is the last date on which the manufacturer guarantees the quality of the product. That's quality, not safety. The date may be set by government regulation (particularly in Germany, not so much in the US), or by the company's lawyers, but in any case there is a wide margin of safety before the product is expected to go bad.

The date on perishables assumes proper refrigeration, of course. Most people don't keep their refrigerators cold enough to keep meat fresh. (From the smell of some butcher shops here in Germany, I suspect they don't either.)

Business Week had a nice write-up on food expiration dates a few months ago.

McDonald's is strict and won't sell anything beyond the expiration date, but for my own consumption I trust my 5 senses.

SM said...

I'm with Max. The only things that we follow the use by date with is eggs. Milk usually has a good week after its date on the carton (I second another commenter about smell and appearance - you can tell if milk is bad). As for canned foods, the whole point of them is for being able to use them for a long time. Unless it's years and years after the best used by date, I'm thinking it's OK to use it. Seriously - January 2009 is OK - it's barely a month ago! I would even venture to say that January 2008 would be OK for some canned foods.

Paige Jennifer said...

Curiously, I'll eat eggs and carrots past the expiration date. But anything processed, yeah, that stuff dies on the date as far as I'm concerned. I think it's because I fear it's already had an extremely LONG shelf life to begin with. That chicken noodle soup can live for a year without going bad? Right, a year plus one day is clearly pushing it.

Simple Answer said...

Food I'm not a real stickler about. Pharmaceuticals I am.

G in Berlin said...

I agree with Max and PapaScott here. I actually have a certification in food safety and I assure you that there is a huge margin of safety in your "best used by" dates. I am very comfortable with 6 months on cans, 1 year + on powdered products, 2+ years on vitamins and medications (that have not been exposed to great heat/humidity- not much chance either here or in the NE US). I have a nose like the most dedicated bloodhound when it comes to spoiled dairy products: I can detect spoilage odor before it is detectable by taste and I smell milk regardless of the date here (I don't trust German refrigeration). Yogurt I give up to three weeks past date if it looks good.
In other words, I would relax except with refrigerated and then I would use judgment and not the stamped date.

fiona said...

I'm a sniff and decide kinda gal.
In Scotland it was easier though, here in the USA things seem to stay good forever which is rather disconcerting! Bread takes around 3 weeks to go off! I know, I experimented :-)

running42k said...

Depends on how close to the date and what it is. Chicken soup from January 2009 is definitely an edible.

Dianne said...

I would have eaten the soup - it was just a few weeks past

Rositta said...

I'm with Max too on this one. Cans are usually good for 6 months past the date. Perishables of course don't count. They are out on the date marked even though my husband thinks they are still okay.

jaded said...

It depends upon whose house said item is unearthed at.