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"best by" date shown on package of sugar

Food Label Dates: What do all those dates mean?

In the last Food Label Dates post, we discussed why it’s important to pay attention to food product dating. It helps us know if the item is still of good quality, and lets us know if the food is safe to eat. In this post, we are going to look at the difference between the different dating codes used by manufacturers: “open dating” and “closed dating.”

Open dating is the calendar date, set by the manufacturer or retailer, that informs consumers when a product is of freshest quality, It also shows retailers how long items can stay on the shelf.

Closed dating is often an alphanumeric code set by the manufacturer to show the exact date and time a food item was produced. Most of the time, you will find these codes on products that are shelf-stable, such as cereals and canned goods.

But what about some of the other terminology?

  • “Best before and “Better if used by/before” dating shows how long an item will remain fresh after purchase. You will find this terminology on products such as snacks, some canned food, baked goods, and even frozen entrees. The food is safe to eat past the date, but don’t expect premium flavor and good texture.
  • “Use by” dating is used strictly for perishable foods, such as meat, eggs, and milk, cheeses,  yogurt and other dairy products. If these items have been properly stored in your refrigerator and are un-opened, you have a few days grace after the date has passed. However, DO NOT use infant formula past its use-by date because its nutritional value diminishes quickly, and should be discarded if the date has passed.
  • “Sell by” dating is seen on packaging for poultry, meat, fish, dairy, and other items, and alerts consumers and store retailers that these items cannot be sold and should be removed from shelves.

In our next posts, we will talk about egg freshness and look at what determines if or when to throw out items. Find all posts in this series at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasotaco/tag/foodlabeldates/.

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