In the State of Georgia, there are several food product areas that Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) Food Safety Inspectors are required by law to examine during a routine inspection.
It is considered unlawful to sell or offer for sale, at retail or wholesale, the following food items past the expiration date stated on the label:
Milk, and Refrigerated Milk products;
Fresh shellfish (including oysters, clams and mussels); and
Any potentially hazardous foods* that are labeled "Keep Refrigerated"
(*Hazardous foods relate to foods with time and temperature controls for the safety of the product.)
The term "Expiration Date" is synonymous with the terms Pull Date, Best-By Date, Best Before Date, Use-By Date, and Sell-By Date. It pertains to the last date the food products can be sold through retail or wholesale distribution.
During a retail inspection, inspectors look at these referenced products to ensure none have gone past their date of expiration.
Outside this list of prescribed food items, nearly all food products on retail shelves include an expiration date on the product packaging. Consumers are encouraged to check expiration dates before making a purchase and to notify a store manager if an expired product is found on store shelves.
For products outside the list above – especially dry, shelf-stable products (potato chips or rice, for example) – the expiration date is considered a "guideline" for freshness and quality. If a one of these products has reached its expiration date, it will most likely be an issue of food quality, not food safety, and does not necessarily need to be disposed of immediately. If the product has been stored properly and appears to be visually wholesome and fit for consumption, it can still be consumed after the expiration date with little to no threat of food safety concerns. But, remember the old adage, "When in doubt, throw it out!"
Find real-time updates about food safety, food recalls and other agriculture news and tips by following @GDAFoodSafety on Twitter at the link below.