Did you know that the average US household throws away $1500 of perfectly good food, due to a misconception?

We, at Tastes of Idaho, would like to address the sconfusion regarding so-called "expiration dates".  

We recently received inquiries about our products, as to whether they have expiration dating or not, and is the food bad if it is past the date on the packaging?

First, there is really NO SUCH THING AS EXPIRATION DATES ON FOOD! Food items are not coupons, that expire and will no longer be honored.

I mean REALLY? A salad dressing with one year “use by” date is fine on day 364, but must be thrown out on day 366? Even though it will still taste the same and offer the same food safety on day 1000?

These are freshness dates only -- the item will still be food safe (if it was safe coming from the manufacturing plant). Barring some damage to the packaging, or spoilage to the product, you are unlikely to tell the difference in five years.

Dry and powdered products usually degrade in flavor and potency over time, but still be safe. This is especially true with spices, as you probably know.

Even though “dating” is completely optional for most foods, manufacturers like to use freshness dates ("Use by:, etc.) because then consumers who do not understand how the food world works, will throw out tons of perfectly good food! Then buy more. Greedy profit motive.

Growing up in the '60s, there was no such thing as freshness dating, except maybe dairy products. If it smelled funny, turned colors, got lumpy or otherwise changed consistency, got cloudy (except some things like pickles that may be that way on purpose), or had mold growing on top, YOU THREW IT AWAY. Food spoiled, never “expired” (whatever that even means).

The federal government recognizes this problem of food date confusion, and is even working with the food industry to entice processors to do a better job of communicating. At some point, processors who use optional freshness dates may be REQUIRED to make the purpose more clear.

Great articles below from CBS news and the Washington Post, outlining this problem. People throw away an average of $1500 per household per year, due to this urban myth about expiration dates. Do you know how many billions of dollars of extra sales that is? More profits for somebody.


Picking the actual freshness date to put on a label is relatively random, and may be chosen for regulatory or industry standard practice purposes, based on food type. And mostly not required at all. But people are used to them, and like to have them, even though they really are of little or no value for shelf-stable (i.e. acidified) foods like the ones we sell on Tastes of Idaho .

Commercially processed acidified foods are usually manufactured with at least three protection mechanisms (some exceptions) for food safety:

1) Heat (boiled to 210 F or more for a certain period) before bottling, with a minimum temp INSIDE the jar a few minutes later.
2) Final product acidity (pH below 4.8 by statute, but closer to 4.2 or less by practice), and
3) Oxygen deprivation (sealing).

With these three protections, if one was missed (e.g. processor failed to cook hot enough; OR did not test accurately for pH – both rare events), then there are still two protections in place. Often, only one is enough to prevent a food safety problem out the gate.

And for products like jam, the sugar content (affecting a processing term called “water activity”), provides another protection, by creating an environment bad things can’t grow in.

Most of our product brands at Tastes of Idaho do not include this “arbitrary” freshness dating. Those that do, will say “Use by:” or “Best by:” or “Best used by:” Please note that due to principles of shelf stability and food safely, these are still fine products. THEY DO NOT EXPIRE!

However, always store or refrigerate appropriately, AND use your senses. If there are odd colors, molds, cloudiness, uncharacteristic smells, tastes funny, etc… throw it away! This can happen even well before a “freshness date” is reached. Do not take a chance. Mostly these noticeable symptoms might be mildly or seriously unhealthy, but not lethal.

(PS: this entire discourse applies to processed foods, not fresh produce!)

Most lethal food-borne illnesses are actually tough or impossible to detect, and usually happen at the processing plant, or from raw ingredients coming in. So how old the product is, has little to do with it. Which is why we use so many levels of food safety in this industry, during manufacturing. However, if there are issues you CAN detect, they may be a signal of food degradation, and a red flag for other potential issues.

But freshness – or what most people call “expiration” – dates are almost completely irrelevant to safety of your foods, although quality and flavor of some foods, especially dry mixes, may decline (or not).

Information provided for your education and pocketbook by your friends at Tastes of Idaho
THERE! We just saved you $1500 this year! Time to celebrate with some goodies at: Tastes of Idaho.com

PS If there is an OCD member of your household, who loves to watch these dates and throw things away… our condolences!