KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- Ever buy food and leave it in the fridge - basically forgetting about it until it's too late and you have to toss it? Millions of us do and it will cost you, about $2000 a year per family of four.
But it doesn't have to be that way for your family if you learn what the dates printed on the food really mean.
Faith Critzer, Ph.D is a Food Science & Technology Professor at The University of Tennessee and says "There are three types of phrases you might find on food; use by, sell by, or best by and they all mean a little something different."
Typically, you'll find a "use by" date on fresh products like meat, chicken, ham, and turkey. This means you'll need to eat the product before the date or you can freeze it and keep it for additional days.
"Use by date products usually have a higher level of bacteria that will grow to an unsafe level after that date. If you freeze it though, it will stop the bacteria from growing." said Critzer
When a product has a "sell by" date; it's usually just an idicator for the grocery chains who carry the product.
Stephanie Turner from Kroger explains their process "In order to makee sure our customers are getting the best food we make sure to rotate the shelves daily. Items that are close to the sell by date go to a reclamation center and it doesn't mean the product is bad it just means the manufactour doesn't guarentee the quality past that date."
"Best by" dates are usually found on cans and as long as the can stays intact then the food should say good for years.
Critzer says "Use common sense when it comes to cans; if it's bulging it's obviously not a good product. If anything smells bad or tastes bad then don't eat it."
Also, the only product regulated by law to have a "use by" date is baby formula. If you don't use it by the date then just throw it out.
Therefore, all the other dates are just created by companies to make sure their product taste good. The dates are more of a quality indicator rather than a health indicator.