USDA Guidelines for Date Stamped Foods


Food Date on Can

Expiration date labeling on food products may not mean what you think and the confusion has led to billions of pounds of food being thrown away each year. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in our country. Although dating of some foods is required by more than 20 states, there are areas of the country where much of the food supply has some type of open date and other areas where almost no food is dated. However, using a calendar date stamped on the packaging is only to help the store determine how long the product should be displayed before it is replaced.

Open dating can also help the consumer understand the time limit for purchasing the product at its best quality. It is not a safety date and does not relate to food spoilage. Once the date has expired, the food product may not be at its peak quality, but unless it was improperly handled, it should still be safe to eat. Open dating is found on perishable foods, such as poultry, eggs or dairy. Closed dating is more commonly found on shelf-stable products in cans or boxes.

To enable tracking, manufacturers must exhibit a packing code on can goods. This allows for rotation of stock on store shelves as well as facilitates location of the product in the event of a recall. These are not meant for the consumer to interpret as "use-by" dates. When properly handled, canned foods are safe indefinitely. However, you should discard swollen, dented or rusted cans. Egg cartons that carry the USDA shield must display the "pack date", which is a three-digit code reflecting the day of a given year when the eggs were placed in the carton. Eggs should be refrigerated and should be used in 3 to 5 weeks of purchase.

So often not knowing what a food date means can lead to a needless waste of food, which is unfortunate for our budget as well as the environment. If you are unsure of what a date is telling you, ask someone who works at the store for assistance. It can help you avoid unwanted waste while protecting your good health. 

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