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There is a lot of misinformation out there about food expiration dates. Everyone seems to have their own opinion, and hard facts can be difficult to find. Many of us just dispose of cans of food or cartons of milk past their expiration dates, assuming the date indicates the day after which the food is no longer edible. However, many foods are still fine to eat past their expiration or best before date.

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1. Terminology

There is a difference between "use by," "sell by," and "best before" dates, phrases we often see instead of "expiration." Sell by dates tell a retailer when to discount or remove a product from the shelves. Theoretically, this is not when the food is no longer good, but rather when, practically speaking, a customer would no longer be able to consume it before it expired. Best before or use by dates mean what they imply: the quality of the product may begin to decline after this date, becoming stale or dry, for instance, but not necessarily dangerous. Depending on where you live, you may also see terms such as “born on” and “guaranteed fresh until,” the latter of which is primarily for baked goods. All of these dates, however, can be viewed as warnings rather than signs of danger.

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.