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Food Safety Is Important, Especially During A Pandemic

As a result of the pandemic, you may have stocked your pantry and fridge with plenty of shelf-stable and perishable foods to reduce the number of trips to the grocery store. Did you know that most people toss 30-40% of the food they buy? Often this is due to the date consumers find on packaging. With rising food costs, supply chain shortages, and economic challenges you need to decide how soon to consume your stockpiled foods to stretch your grocery budget. So, now more than ever it is important to know what the dates on your food labels mean.

What is dating?

According to the USDA, the dates you see on foods are not expiration dates or food safety indicators. Expiration dates are only required on infant formulas. Instead these dates are estimations by the manufacturer when food may have reached best quality. These dates are also helpful for retailers to be mindful of freshness, but does not mean the items are not acceptable for purchase.

Common Date-Labeling Phrases

≤ Best if Used By date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

≤ Sell-By date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.

≤ Use-By date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.

≤ Can codes are a series of letters or numbers and refer to the date the product was canned. It helps manufacturers track product for interstate commerce and in cases of product recalls.

If the date passes during home storage, the food is still safe to eat if no signs of spoilage are evident and if the food has been handled properly. Spoiled foods will develop an off flavor, odor, or texture caused by spoilage bacteria. This is generally bacteria that causes mold or fungus on our foods, which can sometimes be appealing such as in Bleu Cheese. Viruses and food-borne illness causing bacteria are so small they cannot be seen on your foods and do not generally cause spoilage.

In order to maximize your food budget, you want to use the perishable items before they start to spoil. If you are unable to use the product, you can often freeze the food to prevent having to toss food. Milk and dairy, eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables all freeze well if you have an abundance that cannot be used before spoilage.

We know the healthy choice is not always the easiest choice, but small changes can make a big difference. Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services Dietitian, Carey Skelton RDN is available for nutrition counseling and SNAP-ed programs.

The SNAP-ed programs are FREE for those who receive or qualify for SNAP benefits. We want to help you save time, save money, and eat healthy! Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services Senior Nutrition Program also provides nutritious meals through Home Delivered Meals, Congregate Dining In Sites, as well as a Restaurant Dining Out Program throughout the county. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Please remember to contribute toward your OFAS nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable without the support of participants and community contributions. Be aware that SNAP benefits can be used toward your contribution. Call NY Connects at 716-453-4582 for more details and information.

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