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I love where I live. With Sonoma’s breathtaking beauty among her rolling hills, picturesque vineyards, and the close-knit community I am blessed to call home, it's easy to say I love what I do. As a real estate professional and food writer, Sonoma Dish endeavors to share with you my enthusiasm for living the wine country lifestyle.



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  • Writer's picture Therese Nugent

The Secret Meaning Behind the Numbers on Your Egg Carton and Food Expiration Dates

The Food Expiration Dates That You Should Actually Follow

In this age of quarantine, with trips to the supermarket kept to a bare minimum, food expiration dates are taking on a whole new meaning. Here’s the thing though, expiration dates have nothing to do with safety.

In fact, food product dating is completely voluntary for all products with the exception of baby food. An expiration date is simply the manufacturer’s best guesstimate as to when its product will no longer be at peak quality. They’re added as a helpful guide to consumers and retailers:

  • Best If Used By – This date suggests when a product will be at peak quality. It will still be safe to consume after that date, but the flavor and texture will diminish.

  • Use By – Usually found on more perishable items, this date indicates it is still okay to consume the product for a short period after the date, but don’t wait too long.

  • Sell By – This date tells retailers when the product should be removed from shelves. Enticing sales are one way grocery stores try to get older inventory into the consumer’s cart.

Food products that will last virtually forever include sugar, salt, vinegars, vanilla and other flavor extracts, mustard, molasses, and corn syrup. Other items with a shelf life of years include white flour, refined white rice, and dried beans.

When it comes to canned and jarred goods, as a rule of thumb, metal lasts longer than glass, which lasts longer than plastic. So long as there is no outward sign of spoilage such as bulging or rust, your canned goods will last for years. As for jars, visually examining the sealed button on top will give good indication if the food is safe. If popped, significant spoilage has occurred.

Oils stored in cans are nearly indestructible while oils stored in glass will last for years if stored properly. Light and heat are the enemies of oil so store in a cabinet away from your stovetop. Or better yet, on the refrigerator door.

Want longer lasting milk? To extend the shelf life of a carton of milk, store in the refrigerator ideally at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And that means keeping milk in the coldest part of the fridge. That is not the slot on the door where it looks like cartons should go. The best spot is the bottom shelf in the back as the temperature of the door bins fluctuates much more so than the temperature in the cabinet.

Bottom line: use your best judgment before you toss your food according to the expiration dates. Instead of relying on the date, look at and smell the actual food for telltale signs of spoilage. Ask yourself does the color look right? Has the texture changed? Does it have an odd smell? Finally, as my mother would say, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

So about those numbers on your egg carton. Next to the best-buy date is a three-digit code known as the Julian date. Ranging from 001 to 365 (January 1 through December 31), the Julian date represents the day the eggs were packaged and can be up to thirty days after the egg was actually laid. The sell-by stamp date can be another thirty days after the pack date. Once the eggs are packaged, they’ll keep in your fridge for several weeks. You just might run out of hoarded toilet paper before the eggs go bad.

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