Best if Used By: Results May Vary

When you store large amounts of canned goods some waste is almost inevitable. Rotation is a must; first in, first out is always the best rule, but what happens if some of your stash goes past its ‘best by’ date? Well, before the best by date, according to the government is when you can expect the ‘best quality’ as far as taste and texture as the product will begin to deteriorate somewhat after that. Just because a product has gone past it’s date doesn’t necessarily mean its gone bad; the color, smell and of course taste will always be a good indicator of whether or not the product is still good. When in doubt, throw it out.

Now, some products I really don’t recommend consuming much past their dates such as meat and dairy (duh!). Meat should be shrink wrapped and frozen to zero (or canned) in order to keep for any real length of time. Items high in acid or heavy in vinegar are pretty hardy and obviously will last longer than others. However, I recently opened a bottle of ketchup that was only a couple of months past its best buy date and it had turned kind of brown and the texture wasn’t right. It may have been safe to eat, but it certainly wasn’t appealing. At the same time I just finished off a jar of banana pepper rings that were over a year past their date, but showed no indication of being ‘old’. The strangest example of this I have seen was at my dad’s house recently. Dad passed away 7 weeks ago now and I have been spending time at his house a couple of days a week getting it ready to sell. I hadn’t thought anything about it, but there was a loaf of bread sitting on the counter and I realized it had been there quite a while. Well, turns out it was over 2 months past it’s freshness date yet showed no sign of mold anywhere, talk about preservatives!

Your mileage may vary! It’s always a good idea to check those labels before you even put that product in your cart. Like you and I, grocery stores rotate their stock for freshness with the oldest in front, look one row back and you might add as much as 3 to 6 months of shelf life. Compare different brands, the difference in the best by dates can vary widely due in part to how much they sell and how often they are restocked. Finally, labeling the product as it goes into your freezer or on your shelf, if done right, can make it very obvious how long you have left on it and help you reduce some of that waste. Take a black Sharpie or similar and write the best by date on the top or front depending on how it’s stored.

Food is life, and in these most uncertain times it’s wise to have a bit more put back, just in case.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

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