QUESTION:  My mother lives alone and mostly manages on her own.  I try to check-in on her to make sure she is okay.  Recently I chose to go though her refrigerator to make sure there wasn’t any spoiled food.  I found a number of items older than the dates stamped on the packages.  I thought we should toss those items but my mother insisted they were still good.  What do the dates on the packages mean if not an indication of no longer being good?

ANSWER:  A very good question.  Many times we’ll see dates or statements that appear to be self-explanatory but on second look realize that we really don’t know their true meaning.

I checked with several authorities to see what manufacturers mean when they place a “sell-by”, “pull-by”, “best if used-by”, “freshness”, or “expiration”, date on a product.

Sell-by and pull-by dates are instructions to the seller that those items should not be made available to the consumer after the date indicated.  It doesn’t mean that the item can’t be consumed after that date.

One item that many people are concerned about is milk.  Milk cartons carry a sell-by date that merely indicates the last day that particular product can be sold.  After milk is purchased, if properly refrigerated, it will be good for a week to ten days.   When purchasing milk always select the container indicating the longest shelf life and always store milk in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

Other products that carry sell-by dates are poultry, meat and deli items.  These items don’t have the keeping power of milk and should be used shortly after purchase.

Best used-by and freshness dates can usually be found on bakery products.  This date indicates that the product will taste better if used by that date.  However, just because that date has past doesn’t mean the product has gone bad.   Bread and many other bakery products remain fresher if stored in the refrigerator.

The pantry will contain products that have a much longer shelf life.  Canned goods may carry one or more dates.  Some reflect a best used-by or pack date.  Both dates referring to freshness of taste.

You might also see a group of numbers and letters that make no sense to you.  This is a coding date to assist the manufacturer.  These numbers provide information about where and when the product was packaged.  If a recall of the product should be required the specific items involved can be quickly identified and removed from the shelves.

Expiration dates are usually associated with medications and vitamins.  Using these products after the stated expiration date could be dangerous as the product may have deteriorated or become less effective.  It would be best to stop using and destroy any medications, prescribed or over-the-counter, and vitamins that have outlasted the expiration date.

When checking products to see if they are still good your nose is one of the best tools you have available.  If there is a chance the product or item has spoiled dispose of it.  It is better to be safe than sorry.

QUESTION:  My elderly aunt lives out-of-state and is not in the best of health.  I would like to assist her in getting the services she needs, but don’t know what is available in her community.  Do you know of any way to get this type of information?

ANSWER:  Many families who have faced the situation you describe have found the help they needed through the Eldercare Locator.

The Eldercare Locator is a nationwide directory assistance service designed to help seniors and their caregivers locate needed local support resources.  The service links the caller with the information and referral networks of state and local Area Agencies on Aging.

When you call the Eldercare Locator you will talk to a trained professional who has access to an extensive list of information and referral services that lend support to seniors.

You can get information on how to locate a wide variety of services such as meals, home care, transportation, housing alternatives, home repair, recreation, social activities, legal assistance and other community services that will meet your needs.

The locator will be able to provide organizations’ names and telephone numbers so you may contact them directly.

The Eldercare Locator is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time.  The toll free number is (800) 677-1116 or you can reach them on-line at

Be prepared to provide the county and city name or the ZIP code for the senior you are assisting.  Also give a brief description of the problem you are trying to resolve.


TODAY – Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Association free diabetic class – 1:30 to 3:00 pm – at Goebel Adult Community Center, 1385 E. Janss Road in Thousand Oaks.  No reservations are needed.

REGISTRATION IN PROGRESS – for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) – Winter Session.  Call (805) 437-2798 to register.  Classes start January 11, 2016.

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