Food for thought regarding expiration dates

Dear Johnnie: Years ago my wife worked at a RiteAid. Several times a year, a state agency would inspect for expired food items. At King Soopers, Safeway, Super Target and Walmart stores, we find items well out of date. When we tell customer service about it we get the same non-caring response. A few weeks later, those items are still on the shelf. These are not best if used by dates but actual expiration dates. — DZ

Dear DZ: You have left me with more questions than you asked, which wasn’t hard to do.

You don’t say if your wife worked at a store in Colorado, how long ago she did, and what kind of food items you are speaking of — canned food, dry food, frozen food, meat or something else.

I took a guess that as to your question: What are the rules regarding expiration dates on food items?

According to the Food and Drug Administration’s website, with the exception of baby formula, “product dating is not required by Federal regulations.” FDA rules, however, do dictate that when used, the dates include month and day of the month, and phrasing such as “sell by” or “use before.”

Then, I called Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. Retail food program manager Therese Pilonetti said, “The state does not require expiration dates for food.

“Expiration dates are determined by manufacturers based on food quality rather than food safety, (food spoilage, rather than food pathogens that can cause illness). There is one exception. The US Food and Drug Administration requires expiration dates on infant formula. This is due to the decrease in essential nutrients that can occur over time.”

The state’s health department does not regulate how long foods may stay on store shelves.

Pilonetti noted one other rule: “Even though expiration dates are not required on foods other than baby formula, manufactures and retail stores cannot alter expiration dates on labels to extend shelf life, (as) this would be considered a misbranded food and would be subjunctive to voluntary condemnation and/or embargo.”

So, DZ, it appears that the dates you see on foods are for you, not for the retailers. I’m sure that this doesn’t cure your frustration, but I hope it explains things.

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