There are distinct schools of thought when it comes to food safety. For example, there are some people who love leftovers, and others who get squeamish at the idea. There are some who discard food as soon as it hits the “Sell By” date on the package, while others are okay taking a “gamble,” or waiting for more obvious signs of spoilage. It is likely our food safety philosophies have been shaped by our experiences. Anyone who has had a bad bout of foodborne illness thinks twice whenever they consume the food that led to that memorable 24-48 hours of misery – if they eat it again at all. They are also not likely to throw caution to the wind if there is a chance they could end up making the same mistake again, and therefore may have a more conservative approach to food safety.
My husband and I have vastly different food safety philosophies. I am the leftover-enjoying, “gambling” one who will (within reason) often eat food until it no longer looks or smells fresh, while he will rarely touch bread or milk that has “expired” – meaning, the “Sell By” date has passed. This difference in outlooks has led to many an interesting discussion (and debate) around the kitchen counter. My feeling is, “Why let perfectly good food go to waste?” while his is “Why risk getting sick if you don’t have to?” It is difficult to argue with either point, and I certainly can see where he is coming from.
While my husband and I may be the food safety “odd” couple, we definitely agree that it is never a good idea to risk harming your health. One recent evening, we were making dinner and the ground beef we had thawed just didn’t look right. While it pained me to throw food away, he and I both knew it was not worth it to risk illness.
As issues such as the growing global population, hunger, and food waste are discussed with increasing regularity, it is important to have clear communications around how long we can enjoy food before it must be thrown away due to a safety concern. Only relatively recently, it seems, have we realized that there are many different (and incorrect) interpretations of what “Sell By” on food packaging means (and it is not the date by which the food must be consumed before it goes “bad”!) There is also confusion around when a food is no longer safe to eat versus when it is still safe, but may no longer be the best quality. In fact, you may have noticed some food producers changing the language on the package to help consumers know hat to do. Terms such as “Enjoy by,” which is directed to consumers (instead of “Sell By,” which is directed to retailers) provide clearer guidance about how long you can continue to consume a food.
However, it is not an exact science, which is why at some point many of us have had a run-in with foodborne illness. Trusting your instincts is also important – all philosophies aside, if a food looks or smells off or otherwise doesn’t seem right, no one needs to tell you what to do! When in doubt, throw it out.
For more useful information and definitions of the various food product “dating” terms (e.g. “Sell-by,” “Use-by,” etc.) that appear on product labels, visit the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service Food Product Dating page.
Happy National Food Safety Month! How do you practice food safety every day? Tweet us @FoodInsight using the hashtags #foodsafety and #kannykitchen and share your best practices.
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MARCH 2016: Editor’s Note: “Marching” Toward Better Health • 3 Tips to “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” This National Nutrition Month • 8 Spices from Around the World • Future of Food, Part II: Serving Up Meat, Over Glass • Tip o’ the Mornin’ to You: Don’t Feel Green on St. Patrick’s Day (or Any Day)
FEBRUARY 2016: Editor’s Note: Future Foods, Coming to a Plate Near You • Future of Food, Part I: Food Innovations of Tomorrow • Why You Should Check Food Labels for Potential Allergens • Super Confused About Super Foods? An Educated Consumer Is a Healthy Consumer • How Librarians Prevent the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” • Citrus: Great Fruits for Heart Health
JANUARY 2016: Editor’s Note: Gold Medals and Silver Anniversaries • Feeling List-less? Then Check Out This Litany of New Year’s Food Trends • Happy 25th Anniversary, IFIC Foundation!: Serving Up Food Insights • A History of Communication: Insights from IFIC Foundation’s Sylvia Rowe Fellows
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015: Chew on This: A Food Technologist Puts Red and Processed Meat in Perspective • Understanding, Evaluating, and Communicating Nutrition, Part III: Research Funding • Training the Next Generation of Science Communicators, Part II • Achoo!: Food and Other "Prescriptions" for Surviving Cold and Flu Season • When Nutrition Gets Personal: Study Shows New Frontiers in Understanding Glycemic Response
OCTOBER 2015: Orphan Crops • Answering the Challenge of "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" • Weeding Through the Facts on Herbicide Resistance • Rainy Day in Nashville Fails to Dampen RDs' Spirits • Understanding, Evaluating, and Communicating Nutrition, Part II • Training the Next Generation of Science Communicators, Part I
SEPTEMBER 2015: 4 Clever Food Safety Hacks • Hashtags & Hyperbole • Understanding, Evaluating, and Communicating Nutrition, Part I
SUMMER 2015: What's Your Health Worth?, EXPO Milano 2015, "Single Study Syndrome"
MAY 2015: Future of Food (EXPO Milano), Grilling Tips, Food & Health Survey Webcast
APRIL 2015: Food & Nutrition Lessons from Mom, Microbiome, Flowers & Food Security
MARCH 2015: Chemophobia, Fitness Trackers, Dietary Guidelines 2015
FEBRUARY 2015: Farming Cocoa for Your Valentine’s Day Chocolate, At the Heart of Fats and Oils
DECEMBER 2014/JANUARY 2015: 2015 Food Trends Forecast, Gluten & Health, Life after PHOs
NOVEMBER 2014: A Very Southern Farm Tour, Diabetes Awareness, Turkey Safety for Thanksgiving
OCTOBER 2014: RDNs for Nutrition Expertise, Nutrition Behavior Profiles, Fall Food Days
SEPTEMBER 2014: Food Safety Month, Physical Activity & Obesity, Using Video for Education
AUGUST 2014: Back-to-School Nutrition, Pesticide & Health, Sustainable Nutrition
JULY 2014: Perceptions of Food Technology, Millennial Food Preferences, Introducing the FACTS Network
MAY/JUNE 2014: Food & Health Survey, Produce Safety, Summer Grilling Tips
APRIL 2014: ASN & Processed Food, "Banned Ingredients"
MARCH 2014: Nutrition is in Bloom - Changes to the NFP, Nutrient Adequacy, Trans Fat Q&A