Expiration Dates: Best if Used By, Use By

by Anne Maxfield on February 27, 2017

One of my friends told the Accidental Locavore that the best day of her life was the day they put expiration dates on milk.

Seems her mother was an early believer in no food waste and would keep everything until it was gone.

Gone in all senses of the word.

But what does “03/06/17” on the top of my milk carton mean?

Best by, use by, sell by, discard by, or it will kill you by?

No idea.

It seems that the date is generally considered to be the “sell by” date and if you’re in Texas, like my friend, it actually says that.


How long is it going to be drinkable?

About 5 days, but it depends.

According to the Dairy Council of California, one of the ways to make it last is to: “Drive straight home from the grocery store”.


Eggs have an expiration date on the side of the box.

Hidden in plain sight.

There may or may not be an expiration date, but there’s always what’s known as a Julian date.

A Julian date is a number from 001 to 365. It represents the day the egg was packed.

My box says 351 or December 7th. 

If I’m doing the math right (not accounting for the fact that 2016 was a leap year).

And the eggs should stay fresh in the fridge for 4-5 weeks after the Julian date.


On my eggs, the printed expiration date was 8 weeks after the Julian date.

Like the sell by date on milk the Julian date seems concrete–it’s the date the eggs were packed.

But, how long between the time the eggs were laid until they were washed and packed?

You can usually count on that being less than a week.

So, in a country where every ingredient is listed and warning signs abound, why do we have such vague freshness labeling?

Last week, a voluntary agreement was reached to reduce ten generally used phrases to just two: “best if used by” and “use by.”

This is supposed to lessen the confusion.


Here’s what it means: “best if used by” is for products that might not taste or function as well beyond the specified date, but were nonetheless safe to consume.

Use by” is for the handful of products that are highly perishable and could pose a health hazard if kept too long.

Got it?

When something is going to go bad, why can’t they have something more specific? “You’ll be sorry on ____”.

Remember, most expiration dates are sell-by dates for convenience of the supermarkets, and not a drop-dead date for you.

In the meantime, (since it may take up to a year for them to reset the type), just rely on your nose and try not to buy more that you’re going to use before it goes bad.








The Easiest Hot Chocolate Mix

by Anne Maxfield on January 29, 2015

Accidental Locavore Hot Chocolate MixIt’s taken the Accidental Locavore almost two years to de-tox from excessive amounts of hot chocolate. However, this year, it seem like I’m ready to get back into it. This recipe was on Smitten Kitchen (which I will forever think is Smitten Kitten…) and since I had the food processor out…Makes about 1 ½ cups of mix (which will give you about 9 cups of cocoa) and takes longer to assemble the ingredients, than it does to toss them together.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (like Droste, or Scharffen Berger)
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until powdery. Store in a jar or airtight container.

Accidental Locavore Cocoa SuppliesTo use: heat a cup of milk in a small pan or microwave (about 2 minutes) until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons of the mix and stir really well until it’s melted and combined. Serve with marshmallows, whipped cream or just plain and enjoy!

My verdict: On first taste, the resemblance to Swiss Miss (or any other commercial cocoa mix) was pretty good—which in my book, is not a glowing recommendation. If that’s how you like your cocoa, go for it! I want mine richer, with darker chocolate and not so sweet. If you’ve ever been to Angelina’s in Paris, you’ll know what the gold standard is. What’s good about the recipe, is that you can easily tweak it. Next time I’ll be sure to use bittersweet chocolate (or the super bittersweet I just bought) instead of semi-sweet and I’ll cut back the sugar to 1/3 cup or less, since you can always add it back in if need be. And since I’ve been buying chocolate in 4 ounce bars, I might just toss the whole bar in. If you wanted, you could add some instant espresso, mint or chilles, just don’t try to sneak it by me, ok?

Update: Second batch used bittersweet chocolate and a better (darker) cocoa powder–much better!




Recipe: Greek Style Yogurt

by Anne Maxfield on September 17, 2010

Accidental Locavore YogurtThis past summer the Accidental Locavore started making a lot of things that normally you just buy at a supermarket. The latest has been yogurt. It’s amazingly easy and the only “special equipment” you need is an instant-read thermometer (if you don’t have one, you must get one, it makes roasting meat and chicken a no-brainer), some cheesecloth (most good grocery stores have it) and a big strainer or colander. If you can boil water, you can make yogurt. (and if you can’t, check out this funny article from Serious Eats). The original recipe from Food and Wine was for a quart of milk, but we went through that in about a nanosecond, so I now double that and use half a gallon of milk (you’ll end up with about a quart of yogurt). If I had the refrigerator space, I’d do more. My friend Jeremy said to use Stonyfield Farm yogurt as a starter, so that’s what I’ve been doing.

  • 1/2 gallon milk, take 4 tablespoons from the 1/2 gallon and put in a small bowl or measuring cup
  • 4 tablespoons yogurt

Mix 4 tablespoons of the milk and the same amount of yogurt in a small bowl, or measuring cup. Put the rest of the milk in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it stand off the heat until it reaches 100 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. This takes me about an hour (I just keep resetting the timer to check it). A skin will form on the milk. Don’t mess with the skin! You will probably have a small opening in the skin where you put the thermometer, if not make a small hole in the center. Pour the yogurt/milk mix into the hole.
Cover with a clean dishtowel. Put the pot in your oven with the oven light on and the door closed for 16 hours (overnight and then some).

When it’s done, take the skin off with a slotted spoon (or clean fingers).

Ladle the yogurt into a sieve or colander lined with two layers of the cheesecloth (over a large bowl) and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. How long you strain the yogurt will determine how thick it is.

For Greek style, 4 hours, for more normal yogurt an hour or two is fine. Discard the liquid in the bowl.
Transfer the yogurt into a bowl or container, serve and enjoy!

Notes: Once you start making yogurt, you can use your own as a starter. After about 4 batches, you might want to refresh it with some good store-bought. I’ve used both whole and 2% milk, both with good results. After scorching batch after batch on my electric range, I’ve started heating the milk in a big glass measuring cup in the microwave. 17 minutes seems to be the magic number for a half-gallon of milk.