Do Expiration Dates Really Matter?

Those of us participating in the Kitchen Cure have been busy cleaning out the fridge and pantry, checking expiration dates and tossing expired foods. Now, we certainly don't want to hinder this important purging process, but a recent article on Slate has got us wondering: do food expiration dates really matter?

In her provocatively-titled article "Ignore Expiration Dates," food writer Nadia Arumugam asserts that expiration dates mean very little. Not only are "sell by," "best if used by," and other labels not standardized among manufacturers, they are also not federally regulated or legally meaningful.

Arumugam writes that manufacturers often give conservative expiration dates with the "laziest people with the most undesirable kitchens" in mind. For consumers who responsibly store their groceries, food may last longer than the label indicates. (This resonated with us, as we have been known to immediately toss "expired" food rather than taking a more frugal and conscientious approach.)

On the other hand, expiration labels also "invest us with a false sense of security," writes Arumugam. It may surprise consumers to realize that most labels address quality rather than safety. She suggests that consumers learn, with guidance from food producers, how to judge freshness for themselves by checking color, texture, and odor.

How about you? Do you pay attention to expiration dates or use your own judgment?

• Read the full article on Slate: Ignore Expiration Dates

• For more information on expiration labels and food storage, see our Pantry and Fridge Cleaning Resources and the WebMD feature Do Food Expiration Dates Really Matter?

(Image: Emily Ho)

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Emily Ho is a Los Angeles-based writer, recipe developer, and educator on topics such as food preservation, wild food, and herbalism. She is a Master Food Preserver and founder of LA Food Swap and Food Swap Network. Learn more at Roots & Marvel

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