Up to 90% of us toss food prematurely because we think “sell by,” “best before,” “best if used by,” and “use by” dates all indicate food safety—a mix-up that sends $165 billion worth of food to trash cans every year, says a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School. “Most ‘best by’ and ‘use by’ dates are manufacturers’ recommendations for best quality, not safety,” says Marianne Gravely of the USDA. “For most foods, you can tell if it’s gone bad by its look or smell: If a refrigerated food is past its ‘best by’ date but looks and smells OK, it’s fine. If it smells bad, shows mold, has a slimy feel, or looks odd, that’s a sign it’s spoiled.” Combine date info with common sense and you’ll be cool.
Food storage dates are no indication of freshness, says study.