Food Recovery Journal
What do the dates on packaged food really mean?
July 20, 2017
What’s The Real Difference Between “Sell By”, “Best By”, and “Use By”?
We’ve all reached into the back of our fridge, pulled out a jar of something we forgot we bought a month ago, looked at the use-by date, and promptly chucked it in the trash. But how much faith should we put in the dates printed on our groceries?
Fun fact: food dating is not required by federal law. This means there aren’t standardized definitions of the phrases “sell by”, “best by”, and “use by”. These labels are voluntarily printed on products in our grocery stores.
- Best By refers to the length of time that a product will be the highest quality.
- Sell By tells retailers how long they should leave the product on the shelf for sale.
- Use By is the last date that manufacturers recommend you consume the product.
NONE of these dates are actually safety dates (unless they’re on infant formula, which is the only time they are legally required). What’s worse, the USDA estimates that a large percentage of food waste results from sellers and consumers who discard food only because the date on the package has passed.
What can you do?
Take the dates on food packaging as guidelines, not deadlines, and remember that you’re the best judge of whether something is okay to eat. If the food has been stored properly and doesn’t show signs of having gone bad, it should be fine to eat!