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How to tell if your food is really safe to eat

A few days ago, Ted Labuza enjoyed an afternoon snack of crackers with sour cream, which he spooned from a tub whose sell-by date had passed two weeks earlier. A professor of food science and engineering at the University of Minnesota, Labuza has been studying the shelf life of food for nearly half a century. He’s written 17 books on the topic. Another recent Labuza feast consisted of chicken and broth that had been sealed into a can seven years ago. The result? In neither case was the doctor any worse for the wear.

Although most of us routinely fall prey to those dated grocery store labels—chucking entire jars of “expired” mayo for fear of poisoning our sandwich-eating kids, for example—it turns out that those designations are actually pretty meaningless. (Not to mention confusing. Who ever even thought about the fact that there are not just “sell by” labels but also “best by,” “use by,” and “enjoy by”? Not this consumer.)

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