Date Marking of Food Packages
- The dates on food packages can be confusing.
There are use by dates and sell by dates, and best before dates.
How much do these dates really matter?
Today, most products have some type of ending date listed on the product, this is called an open date.
There are a number of ways it can be listed, and each has its own implications.
These include use by, sell by, best by, or, best if used by.
Closed dating is a manufacturer code listed on the container telling where and when the product waas made.
To decipher this, you must get access to the company's coding system.
Today, most closed dates are accompanied by an open date.
For open dates, the use by date is a hard date, where that product should be used by that date or discarded.
Infant formula, one of the only package dates that is federally mandated, requires that the infant formula be used by that date.
We also see use by dates on many pharmaceutical items.
The sell by date is used on products for which the product must be sold by the retailer by that date.
This is used on fresh meats and dairy products.
Consumers should refrain from buying these products at the store if this date has passed.
While consumers should use products by the sell by date as well, some items, such as fresh meat, can be frozen if they will not be used by that date.
Many of the shelf stable food products have a best if used by or best by date on that package.
These dates are based on the manufacturer's estimation of how long the product will maintain its best quality.
Products will be safe to eat beyond these best by dates.
However, the quality may not be as good.
How long the product lasts beyond this date depends on the type of product and how it is packaged.
Canned foods in metal containers can be used past the best by date.
For acid foods like canned fruit, these items may still be used for three to six months.
While foods with little acid may last up to and over two years past the date.
Foods packaged in plastic containers will begin to lose their flavor as they reach their best by date.
While you can use it after the best by date, don't expect much flavor.
The reason is that plastic can permit flavor loss over time.
Dry goods such as flour which are packaged in paper containers or plastic can last longer than the expiration date.
But like other items, their quality will begin to deteriorate.
In this case, oils in the product can begin to go rancid.
The shelf life of frozen foods can vary greatly depending on how well they are maintained in the freezer.
To maximize product, keep your freezer at zero degrees fahrenheit, and prevent any thawings such as when the door is not closed properly.
While it is always better to use products by their best by dates, there are times that you will discover that you didn't use one by that date.
In these cases there are a number of websites that can give you an estimate of how long the product may still be good.
There are some products that have state mandated coding.
And so how these are dated can vary by state.
Eggs are an example.
Eggs may be required to list either a sell by or expiration date.
Eggs can be used past the stated date, but it is important to keep them dry and refrigerated.
In addition to the date codes, there are other codes on food containers.
One is the universal product code printed on food packages by manufacturers to price items at checkout.
Bar codes are used for product inventory and marketing information by retail stores and product manufacturers.
Quick response or QR code is another form of a bar code that supplies product information directly to the consumer via an iPhone.
Being informed about the different types of dates and coding on food packages will help you to make sure you are consuming safe, flavorful, and good quality food.
Frequently Asked Questions