photo of various bowls of healthy food

Is your food safe? Can you feed your kids that milk/tofu/bacon/baby food/whatever, without being afraid that you are going to make them sick because the food is bad, because of foodborne infection? How do you decide?

Most of us look at the dates on the packaging. If you have looked at those dates, you have probably gotten confused. Expires On, Best By, Use By, Best If Used By, Sell By, Best Before…… would be more reassuring if their meanings were clearer. Even those terms mean different things in different states. Product dates are a mess.

This is not a minor problem. Foodborne illness is one of the leading causes of hospitalization in America (128,000/year per the CDC) killing over 3,000. Each year one out of every six of us gets a foodborne illness. Besides not being fun, this is serious. The majority of cases are caused by vegetables, nuts and fruit. However, infections from poultry and meat are the most lethal.

American grocery industry representatives came together to make this easier and healthier for us all. There will now be just two different product date options, each with a clearer meaning.

USE BY means, well, use the product by a certain date because the food is perishable and risky after the specified date.

BEST If Used By means the nutritional value or taste will suffer after the date, but it will still be safe to eat. That one is a little open ended for me as everything eventually rots.

Better product date labeling won’t solve all of the problems with food safety, you still have to handle food carefully and use your eyes and nose, but the new labeling is a help.

Written by 

Michael Carlston, MD is an internationally recognized authority in the integration of conventional and complementary medicine in clinical practice, as well as medical education, research and organizational consulting. Practicing in Santa Rosa, California, Dr. Carlston was voted “Best General Physician In Sonoma County, California” by readers of the Sonoma County Independent newspaper and also named one of the outstanding physicians in the Bay Area by San Francisco Focus Magazine. With 30+ years in private practice, his expertise is in nutrition, homeopathy and sports medicine.

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