Grocery Geek Presents: Check the Dates Before You Stock Up

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Finding your favorite foods for a great price is certainly something worth smiling about. And stockpiling is a wonderful way to shave down your grocery budget. However, waste is one big enemy to you and your frugal pantry.

Last week I mentioned some guidelines for stockpiling, one of them being not to buy what you won’t use, even if it’s a screaming deal. Another important factor to consider is expiration dates.

How long will it last?

From a health stand point, the fresher the food the better. Yet, canned and frozen foods can be adequate substitutes, sometimes even better replacements, for fresh produce that might be past its prime. But, if you are buying packaged items, it is really important to check the expiration dates.

Grocery cart with the label: Managers Special.

Recently, I found Pepperidge Farms stuffing mix marked down to $0.50 a package. While I usually use day-old bread for this purpose, it’s rare to find that great quantity for so low a price. So I picked up a few bags, thinking that I can grind them for bread crumbs or make stuffing.

Before I loaded the cart, however, I checked the dates. Many of the varieties on sale were set to expire within a month. Often stores will do this in order to clear their shelves of items that they will take a loss on if they don’t move them. That’s fine if I have an immediate use for something. But, there’s no way we’re going to eat enough stuffing in summertime to make it worth stocking up. So, I only bought packages with a longer shelf life.

Lesson learned: Always check the dates.

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  1. I did that once. Bought several things from the discount table to find out every sing one of the manager special stickers were covering expiration dates. Packages of cocoa, no matter how cheap, don’t do you much good in the summer, expiring that September.

  2. Great tip! I found some great organic almond butter and organic peanut butter the other day at my local store for 50% off, and didn’t realize until I got up to check out that they were expiring in a few weeks. We hardly ever eat either, so I didn’t end up buying them at all. Definitely a good idea to check the dates though!

  3. I’ve been burned by this in the past on items that weren’t even on sale… its good to check the dates on pretty much anything – especially those items that only get used once in a while.

  4. While checking the date is a good idea, I just wanted to point out that it is not an “expiration” date on most non-refrigerated items. It was a “best by” date.

    A best is used by date simply means that while the food will not be bad by the stated date, the company cannot guarentee that it will be the same quality as the day it was first produced. This is done to avoid any future freshness or quality complaints or suits.

    Some items can last a long time past their best by date and others only a couple days. For instance, milk is usually good for 5-7 days past the sell by date. Whereas canned items could be good for a year or more. Things like yeast though should be bought with caution because it may become less effective over time. In your case, stuffing purchased to make bread crumbs would have more than likely been just fine to purchase with a nearing “best if used by” date.

  5. i ALWAYS check expiration dates, even if its stuff not on sale. also many stores dont clear shelves of expired things so u sometimes have to take it upon yourself to check

  6. I check expiration dates on all grocery items, not just sale items. Grocery stores like to put items that expire sooner (like milk) up front. Depending on your rate of consumption, it may not matter, but I always like to make sure I get the most and longest time out of whatever I buy.

  7. I made this mistake with marked down granola. Some of it turned out to be fine past the expiration date, but one bag was a loss. Oh well, lesson learned!

  8. Great suggestion. I just bought about 8 Nut Clusters packages, some expiring as early as Sept. and some next Jan., so I set them in the pantry in order of expiration to be eaten.