Sell By Date 101

April 16, 2012

Confused by the dates marked on packaged foods? They can be hard to decode. Find out here how to tell when a food is past its prime

What is a Sell-By Date? Suggested dates manufacturers voluntarily use, to stamp their product packages to indicate when to eat for optimum quality. Not all products will have a sell-by date as it is a voluntary, and not a legal requirement.

How to Buy: It’s better to buy smaller quantities for items that you can not freeze and know you will not consume before the expiration date. Frozen foods should feel hard to the touch. If soft, the product has defrosted and may pose a food safety risk.

What to look for on Label? Stamps tell the grocer, and you, this product will be past its prime on that date and cannot be sold afterward. Packed-on-Date indicates just that, and is no indicator of when it’s past its prime.

Choices: Sell-By, Use-By, Expiration Date, Packed-By-Date, Best By, Sell By

How to Use: All states require expiration dates clearly stamped on dairy products but disagree how long products are fresh after the date; some say 7 to 10 days. At home, remember you can’t smell bacteria. If in doubt, throw it out!

How to Store: Refrigerate products in the original product container. Make sure the lid is secure between uses. If you have a surplus product, and the product is freezable, wrap securely, label with both the item and date packed, freeze to use later. Shelf-stable products also require proper storage and temperature. Crackers, breads, grains, and breakfast cereals benefit from tight-fitting containers in a cupboard that is cool, dark, and dry to deflect moisture, air or insects. Temperature is everything. Store dairy products, meat and other perishable products between 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Eat pre-cooked or hot foods promptly, store in the refrigerator; never allow cooked foods to languish on the kitchen counter

Smarter Shopping: For concerns, call the toll-free number on the containers.

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