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    Do Food Expiration Dates Really Matter?

    Experts provide a guide to the variety of confusing 'freshness' dates on food.

    Stretching the Expiration Date Through Proper Storage continued...

    "One of the biggest mistakes consumers make is lag time," VanLaanen agrees. For details, she highly recommends Safe Home Food Storage, a Texas A&M book available from tcebookstore.org.

    VanLandingham also warns that most fridges usually aren't holding at 41 degrees or less. "Don't forget recovery time," he says. That's the time it takes to recool after you stand there trying to find a cold beer or decide whether anyone will miss the last piece of cake.

    Milk should be kept at 38 degrees, fish at 32 degrees. The drawers and shelves have different temperatures, thus the term "meat drawer."

    VanLaanen urges consumers to scribble on their own date of purchase, even on canned goods.

    Don't be too cautious. "Some people keep apples five days and go, "Oops, time to go,'" VanLandingham says. "They may still be in mint condition."

    He recommends using your senses (this would be the "Honey, sniff this" thing) to decide if an item is fresh.

    Oh, and that insufferable air-tight packaging? It has a use beyond building character in those attempting to remove it. "This can double shelf life," VanLandingham says. "The item will be good as the day it was packaged."

    Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

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