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What Do Those Food Label Dates Really Mean?

The dates on food labels can be confusing, especially with multiple terminologies. And you want to make sure you’re eating the healthiest, freshest food possible. Do these dates deal with food safety? Some do, yet some don’t; it all depends on the specific type of food label. That’s why Angels is here to give you a rundown of these dates and what they mean. Read on!

dateUse-By, Best if Used By, Best By, Best Before:

These “use by” and “best” dates are generally found on shelf-stable products like mustard, mayonnaise, and peanut butter. The date, which the manufacturer voluntarily provides, tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality while unopened. However, it is not a safety date. After the “use by” or “best” date has passed, you may start to notice gradual changes in the unopened product’s texture, color, smell, or flavor. But as long as you’ve been storing the unopened item properly, you can usually consume it beyond this date. The product will just taste better if you use it before this “suggested” date. For example, peanut butter will taste fresher on October 10 than October 20 if its use-by date is October 15.


Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, eggs, and milk. The date is a guide for stores to know how long they can display a particular product before pulling it from the shelves. You should buy the product before the sell-by date expires (quick tip:dates fresher milk with a later sell-by date might be on the back shelf). But you can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures. For example, you can still drink milk for about one week after the “sell by” date on the package if you’ve been continuously refrigerating it. You can also keep ground beef in your refrigerator for one or two days after purchasing it, even if the sell-by date expires during that time.

Expires On:

You’re only likely to encounter this type of food label on infant formula and some baby foods, which are the only food products the federal government regulates with regard to dating. You should always use the product before this expiration date has passed. In this cast, the “last” date really means the last. Make sure you’re feeding your baby (or grandbaby) fresh formula and baby food that hasn’t expired!

Packing Codes:

These codes appear as a series of letters and/or numbers on the package and sometimes indicate the date or time of manufacture. Packing codes help manufacturers and grocers rotate their stock and quickly locate products in the event of a recall, but they are not meant to be interpreted as an indicator of either food safety or quality. Like sell-by dates, these packing codes are more for the manufacturer and grocer than for your health.

We know that all of these dates and terms can run together, but with a little background knowledge and intuition, you’ll know whether or not your food is safe. Your Angels caregiver can help you in determining which products at home are still fresh, and they can even take you grocery shopping and help you select the freshest foods regarding the products’ dates. For more information on product dating, please visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

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