How often do you throw out food based solely on the date printed on the product? Rather than using standard food safety practices to determine if food is no longer safe to eat, many people assume the printed date means that the food has expired and decide it is no longer safe to consume. However, this is not the purpose of the date and can lead to unnecessary food waste.
Although these dates are not required by the law to be printed on a product, manufacturers provide them on food items as a courtesy to help consumers know when the food product is at its best quality. To determine when a product is of quality, manufacturers look at where the product is to be held (shelf, fridge, freezer, etc.), how long the product will be stored there, the packaging the product is in, and how long the product will last at its peak quality.
Since a food product is not required by law to have a date, there is no one single method manufacturers and retailers use to date a food product. However, there are some universal dating phrases such as “sell by,” “best if used by,” “best before", or “use by” that you may recognize on the products you purchase. Utilize the guidelines below to understand better these specific phrases to both get the best quality out of your food and to reduce your food waste.
“Best if Used By”/“Best Before” Date: This indicates that the product will be of quality until this date. It is still safe and can be purchased after this date, but may be lower in quality.
“Sell By" Date: This indicates to the retailer when to pull the item to have the most quality products out for sale. It doesn’t mean the product is going bad, but it helps the retailer know when the product should be sold by based on the length of quality of the particular product
“Use By” Date: This indicates the last date that the product is at its peak of quality. Similarly to the other dating phrases, it does not mean it will be unsafe but is a date given by the manufacturer of the product to help both consumers and retailers know when the product is at the end of its peak of quality.
EXCEPTION: The only food required to have a date due to safety and quality reasons is that of infant formula. These products have “use by” dates that should not be ignored, as the product should not be used after this date.
Food Product Dating. USDA. 2016. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating