expiration dateBusiness Week reports that nervous folks are peering more closely at dates stamped on the produce they buy from supermarkets. But how helpful are these dates really?

Many of them are actually quite confusing. "Is a food fresh until Feb. 1, 2008, if that’s the date stamped on it, and then do you throw it out on Feb. 2?" asks Jeanne Goldberg, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University. "It’s a very inexact science since those dates include a wide margin of safety."

DATE DATA. The dates, for one, mean quite different things. For instance, "sell by" is more a guide for the store to know how long it can display a product for sale. The "best before" or "best if used by" date refers to a quality or flavor of the food. "Use by" works more like an expiration date, similar to that on medicines, and taking them after the date is not recommended.

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