What You Need to Know About
Food and Expiration Dates
by David W Engelhardt
In the grocery store, food freshness and safety is likely one
of the first things on your mind. Although not required everywhere in the United
States, most food packaging comes with at least a few dates recorded on it.
"Sell By", "Use By" and "Expires" dates are useful tools when it comes to
deciding what loaf of bread or which carton of juice to get. In order to get the
most use out of the information available, let's take a few minutes to make sure
we know what all these phrases mean.
Sell By: The "sell by" date is the date when the store must sell the particular
item. One thing to note though is that most well-packaged items are safe for 1-2
days after the sell by date. That aside, it's best practice to buy the item on
or before the sell by date. And if you do spot an item in a store past its sell
by date, be sure to tell a store employee.
Use By/Best if Used By: This date is given by the maker of the product. It
is the estimated date when the food's FRESHNESS begins to decrease. You read
that right - "Use By" has nothing to do with food safety, only with freshness.
It also has nothing to do with when you purchase a food, but rather with when
you actually eat it. If you don't frequently shop, you can plan ahead and find
items that have the use by date that meets your needs.
Expires/Do Not Use After: The expiration date is when a product begins
losing its actual nutritional value or begins to not work. Foods will begin to
spoil and ingredients in recipes won't act like they should. Remember that in
order for an expiration date to be accurate, the product must have been well
stored and well handled. Be safe - as your food products get closer to the
expiration date, inspect them closer, perhaps even smelling them to see if they
seem normal. And if you have a product you purchased ages ago, make sure to look
for the expiration date.
Packing/Closed/Coded: This is a date used by the product's manufacturer
simply to track the batch. It has no practical meaning to the everyday consumer.
As you can see, this is simple stuff. Properly used, this information can go a
long way to keeping your body healthy and your appetite satisfied.