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The truth about food expiration labels

From "use before" to "best by," there's a lot of confusion over food expiration labels. Here's when you know your products are still safe to eat.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Let's face it, a trip to the grocery store can break your budget these days, so it's important that we find ways to make the most of what we buy. 

One of the biggest problems facing families is food waste. The average family of four throws away $1,500 a year in uneaten food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Part of the problem, according to the council, is people misinterpret the date labels

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From "use before" and "sell by" to "expires on," the variety of terms can make it tough to figure out what's still good and what needs to go. As it turns out, a product can be used past the "best if used by" date and still be safe, according to a director with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

What's more? The FDA only regulates date labels for baby formula. All of the other ones you see on packaged foods are set by the manufacturers. In many cases, those dates indicate peak freshness, not safety. 

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to WCNC Charlotte by emailing money@wcnc.com.

The bottom line is this: There are certainly limits on how long a loaf of bread or gallon of milk will last, but it might not necessarily be the date on the packaging. 

Before you start chowing down or using something in a recipe, be on the lookout for signs the food is no longer safe to eat. Things like changes in consistency or texture are obvious red flags. Another one is smell. If something smells funky, it's probably best to throw it out. 

Contact Carolyn Bruck at cbruck@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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