Special Report: Decoding food dates

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) -  Randee and Chip Bulla, married for ten years, differ on the sell by/use by dates found on food items in the grocery story.  Randee hates to waste food.  But a recent attempt to make a casserole using an old package of sauce mix spoiled dinner.

"The sauce was bad," Randee says with a smile.

Her husband says a childhood experienced molded his opinion for life.

"Its goes back to when I was a kid.  I opened a jug of milk one time and I was still so little and wasn't checking expiration dates and it was like two weeks past and it was sour and it stuck with me," says Chip.

The FDA requires all food manufacturers to place expiration dates on their products.

There are three dates all consumers should be aware of when shopping.  There's the sell by date, the best by or best before date and the use by date.

Sell by dates are intended to help grocery stores keep track of their stock.   Food that has passed the sell by date may still be edible.

Best by dates serve as an advisory and refer to the quality of the product, not the safety.

Use by dates are equivalent to an expiration date.  Those items should not be eaten after the specified date. That's because those foods usually go bad quickly and can make you sick it they are spoiled.

Daniel Teachey, manager of the Piggly Wiggly in Leland, says some items will spoil before the use by date if its not refrigerated properly, like milk.

"The deal with milk is if you don't maintain a certain temperature on that milk up to that sell by date, it goes bad two to three days beforehand."

Teachey says all of his employees know to check all dates on food, especially meats and seafood.

"All of our meat is fresh cut.  There are no preservatives.  It's old-fashioned meat, " Teachey says.

As for the Bulla's, Randee says the casserole fiasco left such a bad taste in her mouth, she's tossing out all outdated food in her pantry.  Sweet news for her husband.

"If I made myself sick, I'd blame myself.  But if I'd made him sick I would have felt really, really bad."

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