I will start with what the labels mean.
What the Labels Mean
- Use or freeze by: Usually appears on meat, you should definitely use by this date. If you have done a proper meal plan this should not be a problem. If you are not going to cook it until after this date, it's best to freeze right away.
- Best by: This is when the food is freshest and the manufacturer would like you to enjoy it by this date. Your food manufacturer wants you to think the food tastes good. If the product is spices and still smells spicy, go ahead and use it. It is not dangerous, it's just not best. Give it the smell test.
- Sell by: this is a guide for stores to know when to pull an item. It helps them rotate stock. Appears on milk and other items. This is not the date the product would be on the verge of spoiling. Definitely reach back and get the freshest product and aim to use at least within a short time frame after the sell by date, but don't obsess over it.
- Born on Date: This seems to be unique to beer. It will tell you how old the beer is. If stored properly in your refrigerator, it should be fine for a fairly long time, but I would not purchase beer over 3 months old off a shelf in a store when I had no idea how it had been stored the whole time.
How long can you keep it?
- Milk. Usually fine until a week after the "Sell By" date. Give it the "Smell test" when in doubt.
- Eggs. OK for 3-5 weeks after you bring them home (assuming you bought them before the "sell by" date. Bearing in mind it is much longer for farm fresh eggs. It can take about two weeks for an egg to reach a grocery store shelf after it is laid. If you get it fresh from the farm, it will be fresher and last longer.
- Poultry and seafood. Cook or freeze this within a day or two.
- Beef and pork. Cook or freeze within three to five days.
- Canned goods. Highly acidic foods like tomato sauce can keep 18 months or more. Low-acid foods like canned green beans are probably risk-free for up to five years. If a can is clearly bulging, throw it away. If the food is past the expiration date but still smells fine you can eat it.
- As always remember that storage is important. Do not buy leaky meat or chicken. If juices are leaking out bacteria can be leaking in.