The First Thing You Should Do Before Buying Bulk Pantry Items At Costco

Shopping at Costco can be great when you need to stock up on home essentials. The wholesale foods store sells a wide variety of affordable snacks, drinks, and even produce. But before you commit to bringing home a bunch of food from Costco, it is important to consider how likely you'll be to eat all of it. The store does have some great deals, but if you wind up wasting most of the product, it may be time to reconsider whether or not it was actually worth the buy.

The FDA reported that about a third of America's food goes to waste — and 20% of that is reportedly due to expiration dates. The terms "expires on," "sell by," and "use before" are usually found on packages, and once those dates pass, some consumers just toss out the food. Before you add that big package of snacks to your cart, take a look at the date and consider how it affects the product to make sure you'll actually eat it all before it goes bad.

The food could go bad or lose quality before you use it

It is important to pay close attention to dates printed on products. Some foods are safe to consume after the best by dates, provided they have been properly stored and aren't molding or smelling bad. They could still lose some quality and make for a less than appetizing meal, though. The USDA notes that product dating has nuances: For best flavor or quality, you'll see a "best if used by/before" date. Similarly, "use by" is often not a safety label — except for cases of infant formula — but signifies the last date a product is at optimal quality. "Sell by" relates to a product's inventory management, and "freeze by" will tell you when it's time to put your food in the freezer to make it last longer.

While some groceries — like canned goods and dry packaged foods — can often last for years in good packaging, other, fresher foods, like produce, meat, and seafood, may expire a lot quicker. If you're grocery shopping just for your household, it's easy to get tired of having the same foods for dinner over and over, though you may be keen to use the food quickly.

Unless you plan on eating a ton of the same foods every single day, it may be better to stay away from bulk buying things that go bad quickly. Instead, you can search for alternative products that may last a little longer, or just purchase your preferred perishable foods at a standard grocery store.

Avoid wasting too much food

In her article for The Kitchn, Anne Wolfe Postic shared that she frequently enjoyed anchovies. However, after finding a package at Costco, she wasn't sure she could finish a large quantity of them before the expiration date. She instead opted to purchase sardines, which had a longer shelf life, so eating the entire package over a lengthier period of time felt more manageable.

Costco devotee Laura Lamb, who uses the username @costcohotfinds over on TikTok and Instagram, even told Delish that she generally avoids buying fresh produce from the store altogether due to the waste. She told the outlet, "Unless you're someone who's going to eat a whole bag of fresh Brussels sprouts in a week, you're going to be throwing half of them away." Her only exception? Avocados, which she stores in the fridge and eats over the course of around two weeks.

While Costco can have some pretty incredible deals, make sure you plan ahead before your next trip so you can minimize your food waste. If you do find yourself with an overwhelming stock after hitting up Costco, the FDA suggests refrigerating peeled and cut veggies and taking advantage of your freezer — the USDA has an entire freezer timeline chart to show how long your goods will last in there.