“Best by” refers to when a food is at peak flavor or quality, says Janell Goodwin, a technical information specialist with the USDA (who was not involved with the study). “Sell by” indicates how long a store should sell or display a product for inventory management reasons. And the “use by” date is the last recommended day that a product can be eaten at peak quality, Goodwin says. “These are all dates of quality and freshness, not of safety,” she says.
Yet in the Waste Management study, 42% of people thought “use by” referred to safety, and 19% thought the same of “sell by.”
There’s no reason to trash something just because the date printed on the package has come and gone
In theory, shelf-stable foods like pasta, snack foods, canned goods, baking products, and jerky really do last indefinitely. But that doesn’t mean they’ll taste as they should forever. “It means they will be safe indefinitely”. “However for freshness and quality, it depends on what the product is.” Unopened canned goods may be unaffected for years as long as the packaging is intact