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Expiration Dates, What Do They Mean?

On almost every item of food you buy you will find a date. This date could mean many things, but there’s some debate as to what the wording means. If it says, “expired by …” can you eat it the following day? The short answer, yes. Here’s what we found out about these small dated labels.

The most common would be “expired by” which means, per the manufacturer, the food product is expired and if you chose to eat it, eat at your own risk. Something I’m sure many of us have done at one point or another.

“Sell by” is pretty much a retailer’s guide to when the item should be taken off the shelf. This is a guide though, it’s not mandatory. The level of quality will start to decline but the food itself is still safe to consume.

“Best by” or “use by” also refers to peak quality but for the consumer, not the retailer. Once you take an item home, you may have a week or so before the “best by” date but you can still eat the product after, however it may lose taste or freshness.

Phrases like “guaranteed fresh” will usually be found on baked goods and again, it refers to the peak freshness. It will still be ok to eat after but the taste my change.

Certain alcohols such as beer that contain microorganisms will have a “born on” date which lets the consumer know when the item was manufactured, or born.

On canned goods you may have noticed a series of numbers. These numbers can either be a date such as MMDDYY or it can be a manufacturer’s code and to further the confusion, they don’t always use the Gregorian calendar! Some may use a Julian calendar for their package dates.

It’s important to note that freezing certain items will affect these dates as well as proper storage. Keep in mind there are many food borne illnesses and you should know proper food safety tips in order to keep your food safe. 

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