Understanding Food Date Labeling

Person holding bottle of milk

Almost all food has a food date label. The product date indicates food quality, appearance, and flavor, not food safety. Some unopened foods may be safe to eat past their product date if properly handled and stored at home. Below are some dates on a food product and what they mean.

  • “Best If Used By/Before” is how long the product will remain at its best quality while unopened. Foods not showing spoilage may be purchased, donated, and consumed beyond the date. (For donation information, contact your local food bank or use HS 142C Healthy Food Pantry Donation Guide, store.extension.iastate.edu/product/16109.)
  • “Use By” is the last date recommended for using a product at peak quality and is a required safety date for infant formula. Do not use infant formula beyond this date due to nutrient loss.
  • “Sell By” is the last day stores can display an item for sale while at peak quality.

Source:
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, go.iastate.edu/JSL1NT

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