What Types of Food Are Dated?
Open dating is found primarily on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. “Closed” or “coded” dating might appear on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food.
Types of Dates
A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
A “Use-By” date 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.
“Closed or coded dates” are 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 purchase. But even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality — if handled properly and kept at 40° F or below.
Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such characteristics, you should not use it for quality reasons.
If foods are mishandled, however, foodborne bacteria can grow and cause foodborne illness — before or after the date on the package. For example, if hot dogs are taken to a picnic and left out several hours, they wouldn’t be safe if used thereafter, even if the date hasn’t expired.
Other examples of potential mishandling are products that have been: defrosted at room temperature more than two hours; cross contaminated; or handled by people who don’t use proper sanitary practices. Make sure to follow the handling and preparation instructions on the label to ensure top quality and safety.
What Do Can Codes Mean?
Cans must exhibit a packing code to enable tracking of the product in interstate commerce. This enables manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as to locate their products in the event of a recall. These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They aren’t meant for the consumer to interpret as “use-by” dates. There is no book which tells how to translate the codes into dates.
In general, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored on the shelf 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years — if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, dry place.
Dates on Egg Cartons
If the egg carton has an expiration date printed on it, such as “EXP May 1,” be sure that the date has not passed when the eggs are purchased. That is the last day the store may sell the eggs as fresh.
On eggs which have a Federal grademark, such as Grade AA, the date cannot be more than 30 days from the date the eggs were packed into the carton.
As long as you purchase a carton of eggs before the date expires, you should be able to use all the eggs safely in three to five weeks after the date you purchase them.
There’s an app for that…
The USDA’s FoodKeeper application provides storage advice for more than 400 food and beverage items, including various types of baby food, dairy products and eggs, meat, poultry, produce, seafood, and more.
To view publications, you must have a pdf reader installed on your computer…To get the latest version of Adobe Reader, click here
Cornell Cooperative Extension is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.