Cooking Tips

What Does That Date on My Food Mean?

Source: Hungry for Truth SD

Product dates, such as “use by,” “best by” or “sell by,” listed on food packages can be confusing. When the date on the package comes and goes, does that mean the food is no longer safe to eat and needs to be thrown out? Let’s find out what you should do.

According to the USDA, the date listed on food packages is only meant to be an indicator of quality, not safety. Whether you use a product before or after the date listed, be sure to always check for signs of spoilage before assuming it’s safe to eat. The USDA and other federal regulators do not require food dating labels. It is up to the manufacturer or retailer to include them.

While there aren’t any federal regulations directing this, excluding infant formula*, manufacturers and retailers often choose to provide a date on packaged and fresh foods. If they choose to include a date, the Food Safety and Inspection Service requires those labels are not misleading and include the day, month and year for shelf-stable and frozen products. They also must include a “best by” or other phrase along with the date.

Some states have their own requirements. For example, some states do not allow for the use of a sell-by date on egg cartons.

Here are a few common phrases and what they mean:

While these dates can be helpful for knowing when your food is at its best quality, they don’t mean you necessarily have to throw out food once it passes that date or that you should still eat foods that show signs of spoilage before the date listed. Produce can be especially tough since it typically doesn’t come with a date. No worries! We have tips to help you make the most of fruits and veggies that look like they’re past their prime.

*The “use by” date on infant formula is required by the FDA. Formula past the use-by date should not be consumed.