As explained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), different date labels appear on food products.
- A “sell-by” date tells a store how long to display a product for sale.
- A “best if used by” date is recommended for best quality.
- A “use by date” is the last date recommended to use a product at its best quality.
And many products just have calendar dates, often referred to as “open dating,” that tells a seller on how long to display a product or a purchaser how long it will be at best quality. Calendar dates should be accompanied with a phrase indicating the meaning of the date, such as “sell-by” or “use before.” These are not safety dates.
FSIS instructs consumers to follow “use-by” dates on food products. It encourages them to purchase products before any listed date expires. It also advises them to take perishable foods home immediately and to refrigerated and use within a certain number of days, depending on the product. (FSIS provides charts with the number of days certain products can be stored safely in refrigerated conditions.) If a food product cannot be used within the recommended timeframe, FSIS advises consumers to freeze it. It also advises consumers not to use such products that have developed an odor, flavor, or appearance from spoilage bacteria.
USDA FSIS website (already hyperlinked above): http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating