Everything you need to know about expiration dates

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The expiration date is a fundamental piece of information to know if a food product is still edible, or if it should go directly to the garbage. But not all terms have the same meaning.

Understanding the difference between "best before date" and "best before date" is critical.

Prepackaged meats and fish, prepared meals, yogurts, milk and fresh cheeses (but not butter and certain ripe or cooked pressed cheeses), most fresh products have an expiration date, identified by the phrase "Consume until ..." or "Consume until the indicated date ...". After this date, the product becomes, in principle, unfit for consumption and may represent a health hazard. However, in practice, some foods are safe to eat in the days after shelf life (up to three weeks for yogurt and cream desserts, for example).

Once opened, the milk and cream cans must be finished within five days, but unopened are edible for up to two months after the shelf life, according to the National Health Safety Agency. To know what to do with a product, there is no other solution than to trust your senses: observe, smell, taste.

In non-perishable food products such as edible products (coffee, cookies, etc.), canned goods, soda-type beverages, the "date of minimum durability" indicates the moment from which the product risks losing part of its flavor and nutritional qualities, without become toxic. After this date, indicated by the words "Best before" or "before the end ...", the merchant has the right to keep the product for sale and you can still consume it without risk to your health. That chocolate bar left in the cupboard may have less flavor and your coffee may smell less.

What about undated products?

Fresh fruits and vegetables, alcohol, vinegar, salt, sugar, confectionery, pastries, artisan pastries. It is up to the consumer to judge for himself. In this case, there is a rule: trust your senses. Cookies left in cupboards can be a bit damp, while sardines in aged cans will only look better.

As long as the products are not open, they should be stored according to the manufacturers recommendations: respect the cold chain and the appropriate temperature for frozen products, store certain foods in a dark or dry place. But once the packaging is open, the shelf life of the product is greatly reduced. For example, after opening a carton of UHT milk it should be stored in the refrigerator and drunk within three days. And dry cookies will get worse in a few days after opening the package, even if their "best before date" is still a long way off.

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