Food Expiration dates
Kitchen Lifestyle

Food Expiration Dates Explained

Food Expiration Dates can be very confusing.  Although they might sound similar, “use-by,” “sell-by,” and “best-before” dates actually mean three different things when it comes to food safety. So let me break down the most popular food expiration date terms, and the common food safety indicators you should always look for when in doubt.

What do these food safety terms really mean?

Sell By: This date is mostly a guideline for stores to know whether the product they’re selling will look good for the consumer and to know how long they can display it for. It is not the expiration date of a product. It is a directive to the store, not the consumer.

Best Before/ Best if Used By: This is an indicator of a product’s look and flavour after these specific dates, and not necessarily a food safety indicator. It generally refers to how long the product is likely to stay at its absolute best in terms of flavour and appearance. After this date, you might see some changes in the colour, texture, or flavour of the product.

Expiration Date/ Use By: This guideline is a strong indicator of when the product is not safe to eat and you should always use the item before this date has passed.

Packing Codes: Those weird letters and numbers on the bottom of a can are usually called Packing Codes, and they refer to the date and time the product was manufactured. These codes are meant to be for the manufacturers and grocers, and used in case of a product recall, and are not indicators of food quality or safety.

Some types of foods are riskier than others, but I have gathered a list of 10 common foods and indicators that you should always question for safety reasons:


One of the scariest products when it comes to expiration dates! Honestly, what smells or tastes worse than sour milk? Keep it at the back of the fridge where the temperatures are usually colder! Besides, always make sure you tightly close the lids of your milk cartons to reduce any bacterial or odor contamination from other food in your fridge.


If you notice more liquid pooling than usual or any kind of clotting, then that’s a sign your yogurt is beginning to spoil.  If you see mold, that’s the bottom line. It’s time to throw it in the trash!


Cheese can be tricky, because the mold is not always necessarily bad, in fact some moldy cheeses are the tastiest! If the hard cheeses in your refrigerator get moldy, they can still be salvaged if you cut off the moldy part of it (but make sure the rest of the cheese is still intact). However, if mold appears on soft cheeses, they need to be tossed right away! One good indicator that your cheese has gone bad is if it starts to smell like sour milk!

Sliced Bread/Toast:

Bread is normally safe for a week if it stays in the refrigerator. But if you want to extend your bread’s shelf life, consider freezing it, because it can maintain its quality for up to 3 months in the freezer!


Freshly purchased fish can stay in the fridge for 2 days before you eat it. If it looks slimy or has a strong fishy smell, this means it has gone bad. Consider freezing it as it would last up to 3 months in the freezer! Make sure to freeze it before its refrigerated life is over.


Fresh raw chicken is safe to eat after 1 or 2 days if kept in the refrigerator after purchase under the right temperature. But Frozen chicken can also make it up to 9 months in the freezer.

Ground Meat:

Fresh ground beef is no exception to the rule, it usually lasts 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator. But cooked ground beef can last up to 4 days in the fridge and 4 months in the freezer if stored properly. If you notice your meat has a dull color, a bitter smell, or a slimy texture, you may have to change your dinner plans!

Olive Oil:

Olive oil, if stored properly, away from heat and light, has a long shelf life and can last 18 to 24 months. If you can smell some sweetness to your oil, then it may have turned rancid and thus spoiled. By the way, you can store your olive oil in the pantry or the fridge!

Deli Meat:

Once opened, the Deli meat is good for 3 to 5 days. If they feel slimy and sticky, this is a good indicator that it’s time to throw them away.


Rotten eggs are the worst!! Eggs will last for 3-5 weeks in the refrigerator and up to 1 year in the freezer. You know that little egg rack we all have in our fridge door? Yeah well, it’s best not to put them there! Because the temperature in our fridge door is usually warmer than the rest of the fridge (because of the constant opening and closing of the door), so they wouldn’t last for long! Here’s what you can do to make sure your egg is edible: Put the egg in a bowl of water. If it starts to float, then it has bacteria and you should not eat it. Why does it float? Because bacteria produces gases causing the egg to float!

Even if you generally follow the food safety guideline, you should constantly examine the food before you consume it. Simply look and smell and always discard foods with an off color, odor or flavor!
And always remember; when in doubt throw it out!

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