Expiration Dates: What do they really mean for food quality? - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Expiration Dates: What do they really mean for food quality?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Keep it or toss it? That's the question a lot of shoppers are asking when they open the refrigerator.

Research shows, we throw about 40 percent of the groceries in the garbage instead of on the stove.

What does that expiration really mean? It's not so much about the date. A lot of shoppers say it's all about what the nose knows.

"If it looks good, like I could still eat it, I'll still eat it," one customer told us.

Consumers spend a lot of time and money at the grocery store on things like meats, milk, and canned goods. Expiration dates are on everything we buy, but what does it really mean: quality or safety?

"It's best with, especially dairy products and meats to, you know, if you look at it and you see it and you know it looks bad and you smell it and it smells bad. It's just best to get rid of it," Heather Rasmussen of Rush University Medical Center advises.

The Food and Drug Administration says grocery stores can sell food and other items with expired dates at their discretion. The dates are usually accompanied with an "expired by," "use by," or "best before" date. Those goods are usually found in the back of most grocery stores, and in this economy, while shoppers are trying to stretch their budget bucks, those bins are usually empty.

Consumers we talked to say, while they look at expiration dates in the store, the real taste is at home.

"I probably pay more attention to dairy because I think it has a bigger effect on it and you can obviously smell it too," consumer Steve Streeter says. "You know, if it smells bad, dairy is going to give you a better sign."

"Oh it's the smell, the smell. You can smell it right away," another adds.

Instead of throwing everything away, a couple of grocery stores on the west coast are selling items past their expiration date for up to 75 percent off. New stores like that are popping up all over the country.

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