Food Safety Tips for Parents

All Ages

What's the difference between "Sell By," "Expiration" and " Best By" dates? When you’re cleaning out the kitchen, don't forget to clean out expired foods in your refrigerator and pantry. Keep your foods safe with these simple tips.

“Best by” dates

When you see “Best By,” "Use By" or "Guaranteed Fresh" dates, know that those are the last date the product is expected to retain top quality. But there's no standard; dates are set by manufacturers. So crackers might go stale after the freshness date, but they won't pose a safety threat.

“Sell by” date

The "sell by" date is the last day the grocer can keep the product on display. Buy items before the "sell by" date, but it's understood that consumers won't eat the food immediately, so you still have time to eat it before it goes bad.

Expiration date

The “expiration date” is the last date the manufacturer recommends you use the product. While the food doesn't magically go bad the day after the expiration date, the farther you get from it, the more likely the food quality and safety are diminished. Again, there's no industry standard, so be on the lookout for spoilage even ahead of the date.

Look for mold

Look for mold. If you see bits of green, white or blue on bread, baked goods, nuts, fruits or veggies (OK, any food), don’t cut around it—toss it! And if food smells rotten or rancid, trash it. If in doubt, throw it out!

Get organized

Organizing your fridge or pantry may take a few minutes, but it'll ensure you know what foods are safe and what foods are ready to throw out.

  • Use the acronym FIFO for first in, first out. Stock newer food items behind older ones so you use them in order of the expiration date. This method of organization will also help you cut down on food waste.
  • Keep open condiments, such as mustard and low-fat dressings, in the fridge to prolong shelf life by months.
  • Use canned foods and dried foods, such as pasta, beans, rice, oats, spices and flour, within 8 months to a year.