So many people seem to be getting very concerned about the quality of food they buy in grocery stores, supermarkets, big box stores as well as farmers markets. Many people now want their food GMO-free, organic and essentially untouched by the very hands that picked them.

Food is food. But food is not sterile. And yet it manages to nourish us as well as bring many people joy and contentment when something really good crosses the plate or bowl. Yes, Foodies all over the world are spending a lot of time talking about food, writing about food and even some are concentrating their time on the most nourishing or the most trendy food on the market. There is a renewed interest in longevity and healthy living.
As with the population, so go the companion animals we keep. New trends are constantly popping up and many trends are a reason to celebrate a renewed interest in our companion animals well-being. The freshness of their food is one aspect of this newly found sensibility.
The term, “Expiration Date” has become a new hot button regarding how nutritious and healthy food really is. Federal law requires that certain foods labels display an expiration date. Baby formulas and certain baby foods are required to be labeled with an expiration date. There are a few states that require mandatory product pulling of dairy products from the shelves when that expiration dates arrives.
What Does It All Really Mean?

Expiration Date
An expiration date is not a “Sell By” date. it is the date that the food item should be eaten, used or otherwise consumed. Some products carry a “Sell By” date.

Best If Used By (or before)” Date.
This has everything to do with the quality of the product, not the safety. The date printed on the product suggests that it be used before the date for the best flavor of quality. But it is not a purchase or “dispose of” date.

“Born On” Date
This is often used on beers. Beer can go south after about three months. Light can affect beer negatively because it can reactivate the microorganisms it contains. Beer in dark green or brown bottles are obviously less prone to this as opposed to beer bottled in the clear variety.

“Guaranteed Fresh” Date

This term is most often used on bakery items. You can still eat them after this date, but it won’t taste as good.

“Use By” Date

This date is the final date to use the product if you want the highest quality.

“Pack” Date

You’ll find this date primarily on canned foods or packaged goods. Manufacturers get a little cute with this one. It could be in code or it could be the MM-DD-YY. Sometimes the manufacturer uses the Julian Calendar.

But for the most part, there really is no standard on all products. For instance, eggs will keep three to five weeks if properly refrigerated. High acid foods such tomato sauce will keep 18 months or even longer. Food such as canned green beans are probably safe to use for up to five years. This of course holds true if you keep those canned goods in a cool storage area and not up in the attic or in a hot crawl space.

But the truth is, there is no standard system that regulates food product dating. And there is no official system to regulate these dates on food products. And there is no government agency in charge of setting up or enforcing this dating of food products. The FDA took a swing at it years ago but when they realized that the dating of the food was not about food safety and health but about freshness and taste, they decided it wasn’t worth their time.

Some food is not federally required to be dated, but at times required by the state. It’s not a consistent system by any means and the guidelines at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are pretty basic and common sense. According to the USDA if you follow these guidelines you’re going to be safe:

Purchase the product before the date expires.
If perishable, take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly. Freeze it if you can’t use it within times recommended on chart.
Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn’t matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
Follow handling recommendations on product.

I guess this is one area where common sense prevails. Simply pay attention to the dates, follow the guidelines above and you,  your family as well as your animal companions should be fine.