We've all seen those small "Sell by" dates printed on food products. With the holidays over, and the fridge clearing begun, you may find yourself with a few items supposedly past their prime. But how seriously should you take those expiration dates?According to The Salt, "sell by" dates are more about protecting the reputation of the food, and less about food safety. The National Food Lab in Livermore, California has 40 food testers on staff responsible for tasting food and grading it, in numbers. As food gets older, the numbers go down. Food companies review these numbers and set their own expiration date to protect their product's reputation. As John Ruff, president of the Institute of Food Technologists in Chicago, says:
If the product was designed, let's say, to be a 7 when it was fresh, you may choose that at 6.2, it's gotten to the point where [you] don't want it to be on the market anymore... If it's 6.0, would most people still find it reasonably good? Absolutely... But companies want people to taste their products as best they can at the optimum, because that's how they maintain their business and their market shares.
So how can you know if a food product is safe to eat? Just sniff it! If it smells funny or off, then you should probably toss it. But if it looks and smells fine, then give it a taste!