There are several different kinds of dates that are used by food processing companies such as:
What do these all mean? Most of these are quality-based dates from the manufacturers.
- Use-By, Best if Used By, Best By, Best Before: These “use-by” and “best” dates are generally found on shelf-stable products such as ketchup, salad dressings, and peanut butter. After the “use by” or “best” date has passed, you may start to notice changes in the unopened product’s texture, color, or flavor. But as long as you’ve stored the unopened item properly, you can generally safely consume it after the date has passed.You should always examine the product to gauge the quality after the date. Discard foods that have developed an off odor, flavor or appearance. You can also call us here at AnswerLine if you have questions on what to keep or toss. The date, which is voluntarily provided by the manufacturer, tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality when unopened. But according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it is not a safety date.
- Sell-By: Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry and milk. The date is for stores to know how long they can display a particular product. You should buy a product before the sell-by date expires. But you can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures.For example, milk that has been continuously refrigerated can be consumed for about a week after the “sell-by” date on the carton. Likewise, you can store ground beef in your refrigerator for one to two days after you bring it home, even if the sell-by date expires during that time.
- Expires On: The only place you’re likely to see this type of date is on baby formula and some baby foods, which are the only food products the federal government regulates with regard to dating. Always use the product before this expiration date has passed.
- Packing Codes: These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers on the package, sometimes indicate the date or time of manufacture. Often though they appear as meaningless jumble. Either way, packing codes help manufacturers and grocers rotate their stock and quickly locate products in the event of a recall. But they are not meant to be interpreted as an indicator of either food quality or safety.
- Open Dates: Open dating (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a date stamped on a product’s package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser know the time limit to purchase or use the product at it’s best quality. It is not a safety date.
To summarize, most dates on foods are a manufacturer’s estimation of peak quality and the product can be safely eaten past that date. For more specific information about a specific food storage time or for food safety information, call us here at AnswerLine or visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service web site.