With more than 90 percent of Americans throwing food out prematurely and up to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply discarded each year, as CNN reports, you may very well be wasting a lot of food due to confusion over product dating. Your sausage's sell-by date doesn't reflect when it's no longer safe to use. Unless you have good reasons to suspect otherwise, you can certainly use sausage after this date on the package.
Understanding the Sell-By Date
The producer of the sausage made an estimation as to when the food would no longer be at peak quality. This doesn't mean it expires or instantly becomes unsafe at this point -- just that it's no longer at maximum freshness and flavor. The manufacturer then dated the sausage for about 3 to 5 days prior to the final day of peak quality. The sell-by date indicates the last day the producer recommends that the seller offer the product to the public, giving consumers a reasonable amount of time to use the sausage after buying it. So, the sausage remains at peak quality for several days after the sell-by date.
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Understanding Those Other Dates
In addition to a best-by date, you may also see a best-if-used-by or a use-by date on sausage and other food packaging. These are not definitive expiration dates. Rather, they identify the producer's estimation of the last day of peak quality. In general, the word "best" reflects a looser estimation, while use-by dates indicate more well-established estimations. Sausage would typically be safe for consumption within a few days past this date, assuming you detect no evidence to the contrary, but you can expect diminished flavor and perhaps a less appealing texture, as peak quality has passed.
Is It Good?
If your sausage isn't fit for consumption, it's generally obvious. When meat products go bad, the first sign is usually a foul odor. Sniff the sausage, and if it has an offensive smell, discard it. Sausage may also turn slimy or mushy or become discolored when it goes bad. If you don't notice anything wrong but find the sausage doesn't taste good after you prepare it, toss it; maybe it's your cooking, but maybe it's spoiled. It's better to be safe than sorry where food-borne illnesses are concerned.
Sausage can go bad before any date on the label, whether it's a sell-by, use-by or best-by date. If there's some contamination during manufacturing, the product may be spoiled from the start. There are plenty of opportunities for mishandling during transport to the store, between arrival and shelving at the store, between purchase and getting it home and during storage at home. Trust your senses over any date. Refrigerate the sausage below 40 degrees Fahrenheit until use. Don't leave it out at temperatures between 40 and 90 F for longer than 2 hours and don't leave it out at temperatures between 90 and 140 F for longer than 1 hour.