Do You Know Nutrition: Expiration dates explained

By Phylis Canion
Feb. 7, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 6, 2012 at 8:07 p.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

Can you please tell me about food expiration dates? I have purchased many items past the date and found no problem with them. I just noticed the last time I purchased beer, there was a date on it. Thanks for your help.

The only items required by federal law to be labeled for expiration are infant formula and some baby food products.

There are many terms stamped on food products - it is important to know what each means. There is a sell-by date, best-if-used-by date, born-on (refers to beer), guaranteed-fresh date, use-by date, pack date and expiration date.

The sell-by date simply tells the store how long to display the product. The issue is quality of the item with its freshness, taste and consistency.

Best-if-used-by date refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavor.

Born-on date has recently been resurrected by beer manufacturers since beer can go sub-par after three months. Beer in dark bottles is recommended over beer in clear bottles since light can reactivate microorganisms in the beer.

Guaranteed-fresh date usually refers to bakery items.

Use-by date is the last date recommend for peak quality and is determined by the manufacturer.

Pack date usually refers to canned and packaged goods and can be very confusing because the date can be listed by month, day, year or it could be listed as per the Julian calendar. One important note to remember, once a perishable product is frozen; it doesn't matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.

I enjoy cottage cheese and wonder if it is a good source of calcium? Why does it seem to go bad so quickly?

Cottage cheese is an American original made from skim milk either plain cured or plain cured with cream.

If the label says "curd by acidification," it will be a synthetic product.

Cottage cheese only retains approximately 25 to 50 percent of the calcium from the milk it is made from because of the processing. The higher the water content, as is the case with cottage cheese, the sooner it will go bad.

However, if you store the cottage cheese upside down it will last anywhere from seven to 10 days longer. How you ask? When you open cottage cheese, spores enter from the air and live on the oxygen layer. When you turn the cottage cheese upside down and allow it to fall to the top, you eliminate a portion of the oxygen level and the remaining spores will suffocate.

Thought for the week: Frame every so-called disaster with these words "In five years, will this matter?"

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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