WSVN — The food you buy has a sell by date or best if used by date, but if that date has passed, is it illegal for a store to sell that product? It's why one man called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Ricky Desravine's career has been in the grocery business.

Ricky Desravine: "I was in retail for about 15 years. I worked as a regular full-time employee, but then I became a manager for about five years."

And to succeed in the grocery business, Ricky says one thing is key.

Ricky Desravine: "Customer service is the most important part of my job. I deal with a lot of food, and I have to make sure the expiration date, the freshness and the quality is there."

The two words in Ricky's last sentence are his pet peeve– expiration date.

Ricky Desravine: "I started noticing that my mom would go to the grocery store, and when she would come back, she would bring back things that the expiration dates were a bit off and she is older, and her vision is not up to par."

Companies that package foods use a few different words, like "by date" or the most common, "best if used by date."

Ricky Desravine: "I noticed eggs for one that were months out of date inside the cooler, I noticed cheese, milk, and many different items out of date."

If you look on your shelf, you can probably find a lot of food with expired dates and it probably won't hurt to eat some of them, but Ricky knows what can happen if someone drinks old milk or eats rotten eggs.

Ricky Desravine: "I just don't want to see anyone getting sick."

Ricky took the products back to the store to talk to the manager.

Ricky Desravine: "I would physically show him the merchandise was out of date on the shelves and he would tell me thank you at first, but then he would brush me off after."

Now you might be thinking, Ricky's mother should go to another store, but she doesn't drive and the store was close to her home, so Ricky contacted the stores corporate headquarters.

Ricky Desravine: "They responded with a follow-up e-mail to notify that they received my e-mail, and that was it."

And why would a store sell expired cereal, milk, eggs? That one Ricky says is easy.

Ricky Desravine: "Profits are made from merchandise being sold, and if they have to throw away or dispose of the merchandise, they would lose profit."

Ricky says good employees will get the out of date items off the shelf, but Howard, if they don't, is it illegal to sell food that has passed the use by or sell by date?

Howard Finkelstein: "Usually no. It is illegal to sell baby formula or milk products after the expiration date, and you can't sell expired food that could injure a person, but for almost every other product, it's perfectly legal to sell past the recommended date."

Except for baby formula and milk products, sell by dates are not required by law. Manufactures put them there to let people know how long the food will taste best. You can still eat most of the product afterwards, but it might not be as fresh.

Ricky didn't think the store manager listened to him, but apparently they did when we went to the Family Dollar. There were no products on the shelves that had expired sell by dates.

Ricky Desravine: "I also held a food safety certification for a number of years."

And Ricky says, whether you are a shopper or a store employee, pay attention to the products.

Ricky Desravine: "The best advice I can give you is to please, please check the dates on the merchandise before you buy it."

And when we talked about doing this story, I went through our spice cabinet. Half of the spices had passed the sell by date and I tossed them. And that's not unusual. One study concluded Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food a year, much of it because it's passed the sell by date. That's billions with a b– Ouch.

Tired of an old problem you want to toss out? Wanna see someone cook up a tasty solution? Contact us. We don't give a solve by date, but we try to make problems quickly expire.

With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.

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