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Ignore Milk Sell-By Dates, Rely on Nose and Colder Fridge

In an effort to help take the guesswork out of when to pitch milk in your refrigerator, food scientists at Cornell University are advising that your nose knows better about what’s good to drink and what’s not than a sell-by date. Plus, if you just turn the temperature down 4 degrees, it will keep beyond a sell-by date. As a side note, “sell-by” dates often have little science behind them, The Daily Beast reports.

When all is said and done, sell-by dates are not a measure of food safety but, rather, are there to help retailers ensure proper product turnover when stocking shelves. In short, they are messages to retailers, not consumers. On the other hand, other messages, such as “best by” or “best before” and “use by” are codes meant to help consumers know how long a manufacturer thinks the product will taste its optimum best.

Specifically, “best by” dates suggest when to consume the food for best flavor or quality, while “use by” dates merely indicate the last date a manufacturer believes the product is at its peak. Interestingly, many foods can be safely consumed even after they are “expired” using these definitions. So how do you know when to pitch something in your cupboard or refrigerator?

As Cornell’s food scientists recommend, use your nose, as well as your eyes. If something smells “off” or different than you know it should, it’s probably best not to consume it. If you see mold on something, though, do NOT attempt to sniff it — just pitch it. Keeping your refrigerator clean and organized can help you store food properly, too. Please see my article, “The Best Way to Clean and Organize Your Refrigerator,” for more help on that, plus advice on freezing foods.

While we’re on the topic of expiration dates, I can’t help but add that both prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTCs) medications come with questionable codes and dates that often encourage you to dispose of products when they are still potent and safe to use. In fact, an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that nearly 90 of 100 different drugs and OTCs retained their potency even 15 years after the labeled expiration date.

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