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Everyday Cheapskate: When It Comes to Food Products, What's in a Date?

Mary Hunt on

No doubt you've noticed that some food products come with dates and codes printed on them. Does that mean they have to be consumed by that date or just sold by that date?

Or what about canned or packaged goods that show only a date like "2.01.19"? Does that mean you could end up in the emergency room if you consume it after that date?

Other food products don't seem to have any date at all. Confusing, isn't it? That's why I thought today would be a good time to bone up on food dating.

While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating. Under federal law, only infant formula is required to have product dating. Everything else is voluntary.

Meat, poultry and egg products fall under the Food Safety and Inspection Service, and dates may be voluntarily applied as long as they are truthful and not misleading.

Beyond that, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA. Yes, suggested.


Phrases like "best before," "better if used before" or "best if used by" tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. You will find these phrases on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods.

The food is still safe to eat after this date but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.

The "sell by" date is usually found on highly perishable foods like meat, milk and bread. This date guides store clerks who handle the shelf stock rotation so they know which item to sell first. It is determined to allow time for the product to be stored and used at home. If handled properly, the product is still safe and wholesome past this date until spoilage is evident -- when it looks more like a science fair project than tonight's dinner.

For example, milk will usually be good for at least a week beyond its "sell by" date if properly refrigerated. Meat that has arrived at its "sell by" date should be either consumed or frozen within 24 hours.


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Copyright 2019 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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