Extending your ‘self-life’ – Montgomery County Food Bank sets the record straight on your grocery ‘sell by’ dates

By: Sean K. Thompson
| Published 01/09/2024


THE WOODLANDS, TX – Kristine Marlow, President and CEO of the Montgomery County Food Bank, raised eyebrows recently when she talked about the truth of expiration and ‘sell by’ dates on foodstuffs.

You’ll be amazed at some expiration date grace periods

“I myself used to throw away anything near to approaching its expiration date, whether it was a can of vegetables or frozen,” she said. “But then I learned that so many of these dates had nothing to do with actual expirations; instead, they were just something stores used to encourage people to buy more.”

Fortunately – and surprisingly to many – many foods are still very much healthy, nutritious, and fresh after their ‘best by’ timer has run out. According to the MCFB web site, here is a sampling of foods and how long past their listed expiration dates they can still be enjoyed if stored properly:

  • Refrigerated dairy – 2 weeks
  • Processed refrigerated food – 1 month
  • Potato chips and popcorn – 6 months
  • Drinks (not water) – 6 months
  • Cereals and breakfast items – 1 year
  • Frozen products – 1 year
  • Baking soda – 1 year
  • Healthy snack packages (crackers, nuts, granola bars, etc.) – 1 year
  • Condiments – 1 year
  • Dried beans, rice, and pasta – 2 years
  • Water (including sparkling and flavored) – 2 years
  • Peanut butter – 2 years
  • Ramen, soup, and broths – 2 years
  • Non-perishable canned items – 5 years

And if they are kept frozen:

  • Bread and baked goods – 3 months
  • Milk – 3 months
  • Refrigerated dairy – 3 months

Marlow stressed that medical products and baby products are a different sort of scenario, and that neither of them have a grace period; they should be used and/or disposed of by their expiration dates listed on the packaging.

“Not only can you get the full nutritious value from these foods, but it also substantially cuts down on food waste, as well as overcramming landfills,” she said.

The Montgomery County Food Bank breaks down the differences between the different types of dates listed on food packaging:

  • ‘Best If Used By” indicates freshness, flavor, or quality; it isn’t a purchase or safety date
  • ‘Sell By’ is for stores to rotate or otherwise manage their inventory; it isn’t a safety date
  • ‘Use By’ is not a safety date (except for infant formula products) but instead lists the last date of peak quality of the product
  • ‘ Freeze By’ tells you when to put the product in the freezer to keep fresh; it isn’t a purchase or safety date

The Food Bank has a comprehensive web page that lists food storage and safety tips:

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