OT sort of FOOD SAFETY expired/use by/sell by/ etc what it means

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by victoria, Oct 17, 2006.

  1. victoria

    victoria New Member

    How fresh is that food in your fridge?

    Confused by the expiration dates you see on foods?
    You're not alone.
    'Today' food editor Phil Lempert offers some help to decipher all the labels.
    By Phil Lempert "Today" Food Editor

    Expiration dates are one of those examples of just how inadequately the food industry communicates with its shoppers. One of the most difficult tasks when selecting our foods is actually trying to find a relatively cogent description of what expiration dates mean.

    Do you know the difference between labels that say "use by," "best by," "sell by," and "best if used before"? And do any of these phrases mean that if the date labeled is yesterday, you shouldn't consume it?

    For example, is a food fresh until Feb. 1, 2008, if that's the date stamped on it, and then do you throw it out on Feb. 2?

    The truth is that we are not talking about an exact science when it comes to freshness and food safety and the reality is that the "sell by" label actually is more a guide for the store than we shoppers; and it’s important to note that stores are not even legally required to remove outdated products from their shelves.

    The most upsetting reality is that the government doesn't do a very good job of mandating the kinds of expiration information that ought to be on food labels. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates packaged foods and drugs, only requires a use-by, or expiration date on infant formula and some baby foods.

    While the Agriculture Department, which regulates fresh produce and meats, only requires labeling of the date when poultry is packed at the farm. For all other foods, except dairy products in some states, freshness dating is strictly voluntary on the part of manufacturers.

    Here’s the top line: The validity and usefulness of an expiration date all depends on the type of product.

    Meat, for example, might have a "sell by" date that is five days from now, but most of us keep our refrigerators at about 40 degrees — not 34 degrees, like we should — and therefore the meat that has a "sell by" date of five days from now may only last for two days in our home refrigerator. There are, of course, two solutions — either eat the meat sooner or adjust your refrigerator so that it is colder.

    Confusing? Just wait.

    The government system which allows manufacturers to add sell-by or use-by dates to their package without regulation, creates a system that is at best dysfunctional, inconsistent and certainly confusing.

    And sometimes that confusion can lead to illness or worse; last year, there were over 5,000 deaths attributed to food safety issues.

    With all the headlines about food safety over the past couple of weeks, we decided that its time for a "Today" report on the things you need to know about freshness dating.

    Most important is that you have to carefully scrutinize the package and select the items with the most recent dating — but also be sure to inspect the package to make sure the package is in perfect condition, no bulging cans or jar tops, no leaky meat trays, no tears on the frozen package box.

    Make sure when you shop, you shop the center of the store first — and then choose the perishable foods last. Remember that if you put the milk in your cart, then walk around the store for another 20 minutes and then the drive home is yet another 20 minutes and then it takes you five minutes to unpack your groceries and refrigerate the products — you may well have diminished the shelf life of that milk by 2--4 days.

    Now let’s pick up some packages and see just what they mean:

    Expiration date:
    The most important to observe. If you haven't used the product by this date, toss it out. Other dating terms are used as a basic guideline, but this one means what it says.

    And again keep in mind just how the product has been handled. If you’ve left deli meats on the counter for an hour unrefrigerated; figure that the expiration date is at least two days shorter.

    Sell-by or pull-by date:
    This date is designed to help retailers know when to remove product from the shelves, but there is generally still time left on the product. My recommendation is to avoid products that have sell-by dates that will expire before you will actually use the product. An example, milk often has a sell-by date, but the milk will usually still be good for at least a week beyond that date (if properly handled and refrigerated).

    Best-if-used-by and use-by date:
    The emphasis with this designation is on the word "best". All it means is that the product should retain maximum freshness, flavor and texture if used by this date. It is not a purchase-by or food safety date.

    Beyond this date, the product begins to deteriorate in flavor or taste; most often it is still safe and edible. Example: soda — where the sweetness begins to denigrate with time.

    Guaranteed fresh:
    This date is often used for perishable baked goods. Take advantage of the claim. If you get the product home and it no longer tastes fresh or actually stales or molds bring it back to the store.

    Pack date:
    This is the date the item was packed, most used on canned and boxed goods. It is usually in the form of an encrypted code not easy to decipher.

    It may be coded by month (M), day (D), and year (Y), such as YYMMDD or MMDDYY. Or it may be coded using Julian (JJJ) numbers, where January 1 would be 001 and December 31 would be 365.

    In even more convoluted coding, letters A through M (omitting the letter I) are often assigned to the months, with A being January and M being December, plus a numeric day, either preceded or followed by the numeric year.

    The easiest way to decipher these is to call a manufacturer's toll-free number and ask. But that's not always possible, especially while you're shopping. Here are some basic guidelines you can follow to help figure out the codes yourself. Keep in mind that each manufacturer might follow a different procedure.

    To illustrate, we'll use a box that has a code on the top of the box as — J528W3.

    Find the manufacturer code. Look near the expiration date or at the top of the package. Most codes are imprinted at the time of product manufacture, so look for an embossed or ink-jet series of letters and numbers.

    The first letter, J, denotes the month the product was manufactured. Don't be confused — J does not mean January or June. Most food companies start their manufacturing year in June and start their coding with the letter A. That means that A is June, B is July, etc.

    The exception is the letter I, which is never used to avoid the possible confusion with the number 1. Counting the months, we find that J refers to February.

    (ok I confess lol... I'm already confused! but here's the rest of the article...)

    The first number, 6, refers to the last number in the year of manufacture. Since few foods have a 10-year shelf life, it's safe to assume that it refers to 2005.

    The next two numbers, 2 and 8, are the exact day of manufacture: 28. So far, with J528, we have figured out that the manufacturing date was February 28, 2005.

    Remember that this is the date the product was made. It does not refer to the freshness or expiration date. Some products are manufactured two months or more before they are delivered to the supermarket.

    Next we have the W. Here's where you have to call the manufacturer for clarification. Most times, it is a plant designation and tells us the city of manufacture. In this instance, for example, by calling the company we learned that W is their code for the company's West Chicago plant.

    Last, we see a 3. Here again, check with the manufacturer. It often refers to a particular shift, crew or machine. Most times it means third shift

    We've deciphered the code! This package was made on February 28, 2005, in the company’s West Chicago plant on the third shift.

    Why is that important? If you have a complaint about product quality, knowing how to read these codes can help the company track down the problem. And in the case of a product recall, you can immediately tell if you have a particular package of the recalled product.

    But most importantly, you can tell how fresh a product is. You can calculate the time between manufacture and when you find it on the shelf and compare it to the freshness or sell-by date. Now you can really choose the freshest package.

    General food storage tips
    Remember that the longer a product sits in your shopping cart, in your car and on the counter — the shorter its life.

    Once a package is opened — the date coding is meaningless! Use products as quickly as possible after opening. Always refrigerate leftovers in a covered container and use within 2 to 3 days.

    Foods in cans and jars (especially condiments) should always be stored in a cool dark environment — and will actually increase their shelf life if refrigerated before opening.

    Many products have a warning to refrigerate after opening. Believe it! (Yes, even on peanut butter). Best bet is 65 degrees or lower in your cupboard — more than that reduces the shelf life by 50 percent!

    Most unopened canned goods and jars will last up to a year. High acid products, like citrus fruits, fruit juices, pickles, peppers, sauerkraut, green beans, asparagus, beets, and all tomato products should be used within six months.

    Use a sharpie to write on the package when you purchased it.
    Never buy cans that are bulging, dented, rusted or show seepage around the seam.

    Product like some flour, grains or baking mixes contain dehydrated fats or leavening which will become rancid with time — always check the date; and after you open the package place contents in a zip-lock type of bag.

    And remember: You cannot smell or taste the early stages of bacteria or mold. Don’t rely on taking a taste to see if a product is spoiled. By then, odds are it's way too late!

    General Food Storage Guidelines:
    These guidelines are offered for the best taste, flavor and texture; and consuming the product after these time frames is not recommended.

    Beer: 4 months (unopened)

    Canned foods: 12 months (unopened) 2-3 days opened, refrigerated and placed in airtight container

    Cereal: 6-12 months (unopened), 2-3 months opened, put in airtight plastic bag

    Chocolate: 1 year from production date (unopened)

    Coffee (ground): 2 years (unopened), 2-3 weeks opened (in airtight container)

    Coffee (beans): 1 year in vacuum sealed bag (unopened), 1-2 weeks opened (in airtight container)

    Cooking Oils: 18 months from production date (unopened), 3 months opened, if stored in a cool, dry place.

    Entrees (frozen): 12 months (unopened)

    Jellies & Jams: 12 months unopened, 3-4 months opened, refrigerated

    Juice (bottled): 8 months from production date (unopened), 7 days opened

    Ketchup: 1 year (unopened), 4 months opened, refrigerated

    Mayonnaise: 3-5 years (unopened), 2 months opened, refrigerated
    Mustard: 2 years (unopened), 6 months opened, refrigerated

    Pasta (dried): 6 months in airtight package (place cardboard boxes into ziplock type bags to avoid insect infestations)

    Peanut Butter: 2 years (unopened), 3 months opened, refrigerated

    Salad Dressings: 6 months after “best by” date, unopened, 6 months opened, refrigerated

    Soda (diet): 1-2 months from “best by” date

    oda (regular): 3-4 months from “best by” date

    Spices/Herbs: 12-24 months (unopened), 12 months, stored in airtight container

    Tuna canned: 1 year from purchase date, 3 days opened, refrigerated not stored in can

    Vegetables (frozen): 12 months (unopened)

    Wine (red/white): 3 years from vintage date, 1 week opened, refrigerated and corked

    Bacon: 2 weeks unopened, 7 days after opening

    Eggs: 4 weeks after pack date, refrigerated

    Fresh beef, veal, pork: 3-5 days

    Ground meat, poultry: 1-2 days

    Ham, cooked: 7 days unopened, 3 days after opening

    Hot dogs: 2 weeks unopened, 7 days after opening

    Luncheon meat: 2 weeks unopened

    Milk: 7 days after “sell-by” date, 3-5 days after opening

    Poultry (fresh): 1 – 2 days

    Poultry (cooked): 3-4 days unopened, 3-4 days after opening

    Sausage (uncooked): 1-2 days

    Sausage (cooked): 3-4 days unopened, 3-4 days after opening

    Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com ... For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site
  2. llama

    llama New Member

    Hi Victoria and all,

    This article came at a perfect time for me. I've been determined that if I got a little energy, I would spend it on cleaning out and reorganizing the pantry. I love it when there's an actual expiration date, it just makes it so much simplier!

    I have several packages of dry mixes like cake, cookies and pancakes. They are all unopened, but I'm just not sure how old they are, and there's no date listed. According to the article, I guess if your Sherlock Holmes, you maybe able to decode some of these cryptic strings of letters and numbers. I guess if I'm that hesitant I'll just throw them away...but I really hate wasting things but of course it's not worth getting sick over (heard that line from my mom a million times).
    Thanks for the info.............Jill.............
  3. suzetal

    suzetal New Member

    Take no chances with dry mixes like bisquick or cake and pancake mixes you should never keep them more than 60 days after that throw them out.

    Corn meal should be kept in the fridge opened or not it will spoil and you Will not notice it.

    Also if you buy coffee beans in bulk you can freeze and only take out what you need for the week.Coffee beens frozen are good for 1 year.

    When I was working state law required us to pull off the shelf any meat product like packaged lunch meat and kielbasa eggs and cheese 5 days before there expiration date.

    Frozen veggies are better than caned they last longer.

    The only problem with freezer burn is that you loose some of the flavor does not make it bad for you it just does not taste as fresh .A steak or roast that has freezer burn is because IT has lost some of its moisture thats it.

    I freeze everything it stops the aging proses.I also freeze flour and bisquick and cake mixes.

  4. suzetal

    suzetal New Member

    Viral Meat Spray: Advancing Food Safety?
    FDA Oks Virus-cocktail to Keep Cold-Cuts Clean
    By SIRI NILSSON, ABC News Medical Unit
    Sept. 19, 2006 — - The food aisles don't seem very safe these days.

    There are still no firm answers as to what caused an E. coli outbreak in fresh spinach that has now been reported in 21 states and taken one life.

    And there are not many firm answers as to how to avoid similar outbreaks in the future. We know that people should wash all fresh foods to kill most germs and bacteria.

    But water will not wash away E.coli, salmonella or listeria.

    In its quest to find what else might work on these potentially deadly bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration gave the OK to an unusual -- somewhat creepy-sounding -- food safety solution.

    In August, the FDA approved the spraying of some foods with viruses in an effort to stop certain bacteria.

    The spray isn't intended to battle E.coli but to destroy the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.

    Listeria is a reasonably nasty bacteria found in soil, water and the intestines of food-producing animals. Animals who carry listeria can spread it to meat, dairy products or to other products that roll around a processing plant en route to your plate.

    Roughly 2,500 people in the United States become seriously ill with listeriosis each year, and of those, about 500 die.

    The Killer Cocktail

    The FDA has now approved a virus-cocktail spray that might prevent listeriosis. The spray, called LMP 102, is a mixture of six different special viruses called bacteriophages -- viruses that infect only bacteria, not people, animals or plants.

    Even though these bacteriophages cannot infect people, are they safe?

    Not completely. Bacteriophages, like all viruses, contain protein. These proteins can cause allergic reactions, just like milk proteins cause milk allergies.

    The bacteriophages might also get into battle with the friendly bacteria in the digestive system, making it harder for the body to digest food. But that's a risk the FDA already takes by allowing the use of antibiotics on farms.

    The FDA currently allows bacteriophages to be used in pesticides, including those sprayed on crops. But this is the first time that the FDA has regulated the use of bacteriophages as a food additive. Other countries actually use bacteriophages in antibiotic drugs.

    The idea here is that these six bacteriophages will infect and kill any listeria bacteria that might linger on ready-to-eat meats such as sliced ham and turkey.

    Scientists might not determine how effective it is until the product becomes commercially available. Although it's not available yet, the spray could be in processing plants in as little as six months.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, use of this spray will have to be marked on the food just like any other ingredient on the label.

    Consumers might soon see the words "bacteriophage preparation" on cold cuts. While this preparation is intended to make food safer, it does not come without its own risks.

    Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures
  5. ckball

    ckball New Member

    Thank you so much for this post. I recently asked someone about peanut butter. Since I live alone, it takes me longer go get to the bottom of jar sometimes.

    Last week I made peanut butter french toast, very good stuff. After I made the sandwich I licked the knife and it did have a different taste. I could not remember when I opened it. I have never refridgerated my peanut butter.

    I will now. I ate the meal, then had diarhrea for 3 days but was on high doses of abx from my dental surgery. So I don't know which culprit got me.

    Thanks again, I will print this out and start marking date opened on my food. Great info-Carla
  6. victoria

    victoria New Member

    I've read about those... before antibiotics were discovered, they were working with them in Europe to treat bacterial infections, but work was stopped when abx became widespread and since they were so effective. Now certain research labs are re-looking at them since bacteria are becoming resistant to so many abx...

    For me the biggest things was about the spices, I have a lot. When I open them, tho, they still smell fresh... and I thought a lot of them had preservative qualities anyway?! I'm still not sure what to think about them!

    Glad this was useful to so many, it was to me! Then again, sometimes I wonder if our immunities aren'tk built up enough? Kind of like that research that showed younger sibling of especially boys were more resistant to asthma because the boys were more likely to have played in the dirt...

    all the best,