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.

Generally speaking:

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!

Further reading