Product Dating

Most people wonder, “How long can I keep a product after the product date has passed?”

The answers to this question depend on a number of factors. Some are simple, others are complicated. There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States. Dates and codes usually indicate the timeframe in which the product is at peak quality and freshness or the date it was manufactured or packaged. They are also a good reference point for determining additional shelf life. There are several types of dating, though, and it can be confusing (especially since they aren’t uniform!). Here are some simple definitions and examples you can use when shopping, picking up product at a mobile market, or even when going through your refrigerator at home.

Perishable Food is a food product having an estimated shelf life of 60 days or less. Examples are strawberries, salad mix, and milk.

Shelf Life is a period of time after the date of packaging during which a food product has no significant risk of spoilage or loss of palatability (like flavor and texture). This is if recommended conditions of storage and handling are followed. The recommendations are written on the label, like “keep refrigerated”.

Open Dating refers to using calendar dates on products. Open dating helps stores decide how long to display a product for sale. It can also help consumers know when to purchase or use the product at its best quality. This is not a safety date. Classifications of open dating are:

  • Use By or Expiration Date: indicates the last date suggested for use of the product in terms of quality or freshness.
    Example: refrigerated biscuits and rolls
  • Sell or Pull By Date: indicates the last day the product is recommended for display on a supermarket shelf.
    Example: meat, bread
  • Best If Used By or Before Date: indicates how long the product will retain peak quality or flavor – it is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.
    Example: juice boxes, shelf stable milk, cereal

Written by Adriene Worthington, RD, LDN