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Some expired foods stay on shelves Items on supermarket shelves could be past their prime
Collection of expired foods
PAST DUE   We found these expired products in an hour at a single store on May 20.
Sure, you check the sell-by date before buying milk, but many other products might also be past their prime. That’s what we found when we sent seven mystery shoppers to look for expired food in 31 supermarkets and supercenters in Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington state. Although the Michigan and Washington shoppers found no expired products, the rest found a total of 72 items that were past their sell-by dates. (We didn’t count multiples of identical products.)

The Texas shopper found 23 products at four of eight stores. They included yogurts, dips, cottage cheese, and hot dogs, cold cuts, and other processed meats. The Connecticut shopper went to two stores and found 22 items, including ground meat, shrimp cocktail, and carrot juice. Most ancient of all was a tub of cream cheese. Our New York shopper bought it on May 20, 2008. Its expiration date: Jan. 21, 2008.

Except for infant formula and some baby food, product dating is not required by the federal government. But more than 20 states mandate it for some foods.

“Sell by” indicates the last day on which a product should be sold. It takes into account time for the food to be used at home. Milk, for example, is OK for about seven days after the sell-by date. “Use by” indicates the last date the product is likely to be at peak flavor and quality.

CR’s take. Check sell-by dates, especially on dairy items and meats. If you see an expired product in the store, tell a manager. If you’ve brought one home, consider returning it for a refund.

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