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Food expiration dates: Do they really matter?

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PHOENIX -

Use-by dates are on just about every food item you buy in the grocery store these days, but it turns out those dates cause a lot of people to trash perfectly good food.

So do food expiration dates really matter?

I'm one of those people -- I don't do the sniff test.  I just toss it out if it's past the date on the label.  You think that's being smart, but a new report just came out and it shows those dates you see on food labels are really misleading.  And nearly half of the food supply in the U.S. is tossed out because of those dates.

"I have four kids and I just want to make sure that none of us get sick."

Amy Quinn is like 90 percent of Americans who throw away food too soon.

A new Harvard study found 40 percent of the entire food supply in the U.S. is wasted because of these dates.

"Depends on if it's a cold item, I pitch it immediately.  If it's something on the shelf in the pantry, if it's been a week or two, I test it myself," said Kate Bostock.

Baby formula and some baby foods are really the only foods required by federal law to have set expiration dates. Dates on other food items are merely suggestions from the manufacturer.

I did my own unscientific study that shows men tend to waste less food than women.

"Chips.. stale -- guys just eat it.  Cereal.. same thing," said Corey Mahoney.

So do these dates really matter?  Here's what experts say they really mean:

Use-by and best-buy dates indicate quality -- when the manufacturer thinks the food will reach its peak freshness, not when the food will spoil.

The sell-by date is really only for stores, letting them know how long the item should sit on the shelf.  Usually, the food is still edible for some time after.

"You can eat a stale potato chip, but not a stale muffin or a cupcake," said Mahoney.

So before you toss out that cheese, give it a chance.  It's probably still good.  When in doubt, give it to your husband.

"So he can take a bite out of it.. so if he's fine, you'll probably eat it too," said Quinn.

So the morale of the story here is you're probably not going to die if you eat something past the date on the label or wrapper.

Food experts say instead of looking at the date, look at the food, smell it -- if it looks and smells rotten, then toss it out.  Don't just go by the date.

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