Fresh look at food dating

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: November 3rd, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Food expiration dates have been around as long as can openers.

But recently, food suppliers have changed the way these dates are presented on their products. Instead of the traditional “expires on” wording, labels now contain terms such as “born on” or “best if used by.”

But these approaches may be souring people on perfectly palatable food.

Researchers with Cornell University and the U.S. Army asked thirty-six panelists to evaluate different yogurts with various “best if used by” dates.

If the expiration was near or had passed, the panelists didn’t think the yogurt was as good, even though the scientists said it would have been very difficult for anyone to actually have tasted a difference.

From a marketing perspective, the wording affected how the volunteers accepted the food as well as their perceptions of the food’s healthfulness and freshness.

And while foods that are purchased or used after their expiration dates may be more likely to contain bacteria or organisms that can make you sick, expiration dates indicate when a food is at its best quality, not necessarily whether it is safe.

Most foods are safe to eat and even remain tasty beyond their expiration dates.

However, if handled improperly, almost any food can become contaminated long before its expiration date arrives. Swollen cans or bloated vacuum-packaging may be signs of tainted food, even if it just arrived on the shelf.

Sometimes the freshness date needs to be taken with a grain of salt.