Expiration, Use-By and Sell-By dates: What do they really mean? Adapted from:


Sell By DatesThe following guidelines and information should help to take the guesswork out of determining whether or not your food is safe to eat.

Dating is not required by US Federal law, with the exception of infant formula and baby foods which must be withdrawn by their expiration date. For all other foods, except dairy products in some states, freshness dating is strictly voluntary on the part of manufacturers.

So what do these terms mean for consumers?

Expiration Date: If you have a product with an expired expiration date, throw it out. While other dating terms are used as a basic guideline, this one is absolute.

Best if Used-By and Use-By date: “Use-By” or, “Best if Used By” dates are a suggestion for when the food item will be at its best quality. Food can be consumed past this date, but may have decreased in flavor, texture, or appearance. “Use- By” dates are most often found on canned goods, dry goods, condiments, or other shelf stable items.

Sell-By date: Many fresh or prepared foods are labeled with a “Sell-By” date as a guide for how long the item should be displayed for sale before quality deteriorates. Items are generally safe for consumption after this date, but may begin to lose flavor or eye appeal. “Sell-By” dates are chosen with the assumption that the buyer may store or eat the item a few days after purchase. Food in the refrigerator past the sell by date does not need to be thrown away.

Guaranteed Fresh: This date is often used for perishable baked goods. Beyond this date, freshness is no longer guaranteed, although it may still be edible.

So all of this assumes foods are stored at the right temperature. Next month we will talk about storing food safely at home.

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Storing Fresh Foods

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