Food Product Dating - What Does It Mean to You

datelady.jpg image on bigy.comHave you ever wondered why some items in the grocery store have a “sell-by” date or “use-by” date and others have some type of “foreign” code.  It’s because different types of products, such as dairy items and canned items, are dated differently.  These items can be dated based on the shelf life of the product, production codes, etc.

Is dating required by law?

Except for infant formula and baby food, product dating is not generally required by federal regulations.  However, if a calendar date is used, it must express both the month and the day of the month.  The year is only required on shelf stable and frozen products.  If a calendar date is used, a phrase explaining the date (use-by, sell-by, etc.) must be immediately adjacent.

What is “Open” Dating?

“Open Dating,” use of a calendar date, on a food product is a date stamped on a product’s package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale.  It can also help the consumer to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality.

Types of Dates

1. Sell-by date– tells the store how long to display the product for sale.  Purchase the product before the date expires.
2. Best if used by (or before)– This date is recommended for best flavor or quality.  It is not a purchase or safety date.
3. Use-by– Is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.  The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
4. Close or coded dates– Packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

Safety After Date Expires

Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always refer to home storage and use after purchasing.  “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates.  Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality, if handled properly and kept at the correct temperature.

Baby Food and Baby Formula

Federal regulations require a “use-by” date on the product label of infant formula and the varieties of baby food under FDA inspection.  If consumed by that date, the formula or food must contain not less than the quantity of each nutrient as described on the label.  Formula must maintain an acceptable quality to pass through an ordinary bottle nipple.  Dating of baby food is for quality as well as for nutrient retention.  Do not buy or use baby food or formula after its use-by date.

Can Codes

Cans must exhibit a packing code so that they can easily be tracked.  This enables manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as locate product in the event of a recall.

These codes appear as a series of letters and numbers that might refer to date and time manufactured.  They are not meant to be interpreted as a “use-by” date.  Cans may also have a “best if used by” date for quality reasons.

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