Understanding Food Product Dating

Best Before Food Date

Up to 40 percent of United States food is never eaten. It might seem unbelievable, but percentages often yield information about product consumption. Dates printed on food products are incorporated for many reasons, though some believe they’re utilized to reflect food expiration dates. Of course, different printed dates do reveal some information, but they’re entirely conducive to each manufacturer's food products or store's shelving schedules.

Problem is, there are no federal regulations governing food label dates. Understanding each label’s meaning is important, as eating food products by the right date should ensures healthy and safe consumption habits. Listed below are three (3) common date stamps:

The “Sell By” Label

The “sell by” label is highly visible on foods able to spoil, however it’s incorporated on many food labels — as most food expires sooner or later. The “sell by” label may help consumers depict peak quality and freshness, though it isn’t placed on food for the consumer’s use. It’s printed solely for retailers. Retail chains need to maintain certain health practices to remain effective and adhere to industry guidelines. The “sell by” label indicates when a seller should remove and replace a product to adhere to their industry standards.

The “Best Before” Label

The “best before” and “best by” labels strictly indicate a product’s best-possible freshness “cutoff” date. It doesn’t depict danger—rather, it informs consumers about lost taste quality and freshness quality.

The “Use By” Label

The “use by” label informs consumers about potential dangers present when consuming food beyond a certain date. While not a strict rule, the “use by” scale is useful for depicting the shelf life of certain products. Produce and dairy, here, make good use of the “use by” label.

Of course, each label is incredibly useful to consumers. They aren’t, however, printed to guarantee the consumer’s safety. All foods are different, and without standardization of terminology, it’s impossible to know a specific product’s shelf life.


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