Many times, while shopping in America we are faced with confusing dates on packaged food labels. This article helps make sense out of the confusion. Also included are some helpful hints on keeping food fresh and safe to eat.
Have you ever picked up a can of fruit or vegetables in the grocery store and turned it over trying to find the expiration date only to find that there was none? Sometimes there are other dates such as “Best if used by 5-4”. What could that mean? Perhaps May, 2004?
Consumer Reports advises that except for poultry, some baby food, and infant formula the U.S. Federal government does not require product dating on food. A little more than 20 American states mandate food dating, but what are the dates and what do they mean?
Use by, Best if used by, or a Quality Assurance date:
These dates do not imply that the food is unsafe to eat after the listed date. The date merely refers to flavor and quality. To receive the maximum amount of nutrients and peak flavor of this product it should be consumed prior to the date shown. A good example would be cereal. A box of cereal sitting in the cupboard for a lengthy period of time will not taste as fresh as a newly packaged one, nor will it be as nutritious.
Sell by or Pull date:
These dates are placed on products to suggest to the retailer the need of removing the items from the sales floor after the listed date. Another benefit of these dates it to advise store staff to move the item to the front of the shelf months before the date and weeks before the date to sell at a discounted price.
A sell by date does not indicate the food automatically “goes bad” on that date. Milk, for example would retain its flavor and freshness for approximately one week after the date, and chicken for one or two days.
Pack or Package Date:
This is a date placed on fresh meats and produce to indicate the date of packaging. This does not guarantee safety or freshness.
Born On date:
This is a practice initiated by Anheuser-Busch. Anheuser-Busch claims their beer tastes best within 110 days of the “Born on” date.
This is a series of letters, numbers, or both to indicate to the manufacturer which batches the foods originated in. This is useful in case of a recall in tracking down the product. Sometimes food products are shipped across many states and this code aids in locating the entire batch.
Use by or an Expiration date:
Food should not be consumed after this date. It should be considered unsafe and discarded.
This date is generally used on baked goods. It is similar to the “best if used by” description in that the bread does not automatically “go bad” on the date listed, but it may not retain its softness and freshness.
Tips to maintain freshness in your kitchen:
- Check the dates on baking mixes. The dehydrated fats in the packages can go bad.
- Take a marker and mark the dates of your purchase on your cans. Fruit juices, peppers, sauerkraut, green beans, and tomato products should be eaten within six months. Most other can goods can last a year or so.
- Check the appearance and smell of canned goods when you open them. If it does not smell or look right, throw it out.
- Keep your canned foods at a temperature of no higher than 65 degrees F. Higher temperatures reduce the shelf life.
- Refrigerate all leftover foods in sealed containers and eat within three days
- Once you have opened the product forget the date on the package. It now needs to be refrigerated.
- Do not purchase cans that are bulging, oozing or dented, as these can be signs of contamination
Published in: Consumer Information