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Its okay to drink regular coke (ie sugar based) a little after the use by date.However, as a rule do not consume any diet sodas (or for that matter products that use artificial sweeteners) after the use by date.The labels, or "open dating," are meant to tell grocers how long to keep items on shelves. The real label you want to look out for is "Use By," which provides the best clue for freshness.

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Nearly half of America's food gets thrown out each year — much of which is actually perfectly safe to eat — often because of passed sell-by dates.

Here's a little secret about those "sell-by date" labels you see on food packages: they don't mean that much.

Some foods show a best-before date even if they are not required to do so, but these dates tell you about the freshness and shelf life of "unopened food," so once a product is opened, there's no guarantee it will have the same flavour, texture or nutritional value. The expiration date is the date up to which the food maintains its microbiological and physical stability, and the nutrient content declared on the label.

"Consumers need to know once they’ve opened a carton of yogurt, and taken that seal off, that best-before or expiry date is no longer in effect," says Watson. That means it's important to use that food before the expiry date to get the most nutritional value from it. What if a food looks or smells OK, but has passed its best-before or expiry date?

Some foods with a longer shelf life and that are critical to nutrition must carry expiry dates.

These foods include meal replacements, nutritional supplements, infant formulas and formulated liquid diets, which should not be consumed after the date on the label has passed, Mattison says from Ottawa.

Even after a best-before or expiry date has lapsed, a food may smell or taste fine, but that can be dangerous, warns Health Canada.

When a best-before date has expired, "use your judgment. "When an expiration date has passed, there is no doubt, throw it out." 4.

The Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety says refrigeration slows down but does not stop bacterial growth, so food can still go bad.

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