Decoding Dates for Foods

You open up the fridge to pour yourself a cold glass of milk and notice the date listed was yesterday. Out of pure despair you try to figure out how “bad” it could possibly be. What is your next step? To many people’s ’s surprise, it is not asking your family member if it has a funny smell before gulping it down in order to satisfy your craving. Even though the only food required federally to have an expiration date is infant formula, many companies voluntarily hop on the band wagon to help keep consumers safe. But not all dates are created equal. Join me as we learn the lingo:

  • Expiration Date: This is the last date the food should be used or consumed. Proceed at your own risk.
  • Sell By Date: This is the date used by the retailer to help communicate the last date the items should be sold. This is usually the date it’s at the highest quality. But don’t fret, the food will remain edible for some time afterwards.
  • Best If Used By (or before) Date: This refers strictly to quality, and not to food’s safety. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. For example, many breads use this date. If you find yourself caught with a stale loaf of bread in your hand, try this Herbed Garlic Crouton Recipe.

  • Use By Date: This is the last date recommended for the use of the product. While you may be able to use it after this date, it will likely not be at its best quality.
  • Pack Date: You will find this one on canned or packaged goods but it can be tricky to decipher. Some manufacturers use a code like, month-day-year. Others even will convert it to the Julian calendar. For instance, January would then be 001-0031 and December 334-365.
  • Born on date: This is the date the items was manufactured. This is mostly used to help retailers stock shelves and may be used during a recall. To help protect your family and stay on top of food recalls, check out this government website

If you are not feeling like decrypting codes, there are some general rules to help. These rules assume the item is purchased before the sell by date. For instance, milk is usually fine for a week while eggs can stay ready to fry up to 5 weeks. Actually, you can do your own home-test by setting an egg in a bowl full of water. If the egg lays on its side or stands upright at the bottom, it is safe to eat. If the egg floats to the top, unfortunately you should not use these. On the flip side, fresh meats have a much quicker turnaround time. Poultry or fish must be used or frozen within a 2 days with pork and beef lasting up to 5 days. Use these tips and proper food handling to ensure that you and your family can enjoy safe, delicious, and healthy meals.