Prepping and Expiration Dates

open canned corn

As a prepper, you know that canned goods are the foundation of any sensible food storage plan. But how can you make sure that you’re investing your money into items that can last? Is that jar of spaghetti sauce still good after six months?

The expiration dates on edible and non-edible products are often confusing. For example, the “Expiry Date” term that most people are familiar with differs from the expiration date. But, of course, each of the terms is vital in guiding consumers when they should use or consume a specific product.

There are various terms that product consumers should be aware of, to avoid disposing of products that are still safe to use, or using products that pose a health risk. The main terms used by product manufacturers include:

  • Best before
  • Expiration date
  • Sell by
  • Use by

As expected, each of these terms has a different meaning that should guide consumers on using the product.

Best Before

This term indicates the date before the quality of edible products is optimal. If a product is best before a specific date, that means that the taste, freshness, and overall quality will be at their best before the given date.

That, however, does not mean that you cannot consume the product after the given date. You can continue consuming the product, but you shouldn’t expect the quality to be at its best.

Expiration date

Unlike the best before date, this one means that a product is unfit for consumption after the given date. That may be due to spoilage of the ingredients or due to microorganisms being present in the product.

Eating food or using a product after it has expired exposes you to serious health risks and even death in extreme cases.

shelf of canned food in a supermarket

Sell by

This term guides the seller more than it teaches the buyer. As a seller, one is supposed to have sold products before their sell-by date to ensure that their customers are getting good quality products.

However, it does not mean that a product is not fit for consumption after the “Sell By” date.

Most products that use “Sell By” dates are usually still fit for use for up to several weeks after the given date. After that, the seller could change the date, as long as it’s within the manufacturer’s specified range.

After the maximum specified time, a seller should get rid of the product if they have not sold it yet.

Use by

Products that feature the “Use by” term are mostly refrigerated dough and other products that may require additional preparation before consumption.

This term means that the given product should be used before the specified date, as it is in the best state.

In other cases, such as infant formula, this term means that the product will most likely start diminishing in nutritional value after the specified date. But, of course, you can still use the product after the listed date, with the caveat that it will not be of the best quality.

Relationship between expiration dates and safe consumption of products

The majority of consumers believe that they should never use a product beyond the expiration date. Well, that may be true for some products, such as meat-based products.

In some cases, however, the products – mainly processed products – are still safe for consumption after the expiration date.

How you have been storing the products and how well the products were processed can alter the date.

In most cases, products such as cereal, fruits, veggies, frozen foods, pasta, bread, and canned foods are safe even after the expired date if they were stored properly.

In some cases, special storage such as freezing foods can go a long way towards extending their lifespan by a significant range. This extended lifespan is especially true for foods that are not affected by chilly conditions.

But you should pay attention to the condition of food packaging. Feel free to chuck the food into the trash if you see any indication of bulging in canned foods, foul smells, or anything else that doesn’t seem right.

While it is rare, botulism can be potentially fatal and it’s not worth the risk to save yourself a dollar.

So In a Nutshell

The different terms used to determine the food that is safe for consumption can be confusing, but with enough knowledge about what each of the words means, you can now avoid unnecessary disposal of food.

Of course, you should not just assume that a given product is safe for use after the given date.

It’s always advisable to read the manufacturer’s instructions on using the product to avoid various complications. In addition, a visual inspection of the product also helps a lot, as some looks are direct indications that food is not fit for consumption or that the given product should not be used.