What difference is between expiration, best-by, sell-by, and use-by dates?

Food waste is a massive problem in the “Land of Plenty.” This moniker is becoming less accurate as supply chain problems affect everything we eat, drink, cook and prepare. According to They are not required by USDA, and they are not closely monitored by any government agency, except for infant formula.

What are expiration dates?

The “expiration date” label is no longer used, and instead, the more precise and less alarming “best by” or “sell by” labels are now used. These labels are often reserved for items whose use after the printed date is strongly advised since nutrition, efficacy and potency may be affected.

Infant formula is the most critical example, and it is the only food item that must be labeled and displayed. Nutrients can deteriorate over time because their nutritional profile has been developed with great precision. It is usually not difficult to follow this recommendation as both the stores and you have one year from its manufacture to sell it and use it.
Other baby foods, vitamins and over-the-counter medicines, cake mix, baking powder, yeast, and pectin may also use “expiration day.” Every other item, except the first, won’t perform the way it needs to after a specific date and will become less effective over time. To ensure your dough rises and your jam gels and vitamins are at their best, check the date.

What are the best-by and most-used-by dates?

This phrase is “Best if used before,” making them somewhat interchangeable. It is also one of the most honest and transparent labels available. This means that the product’s taste, smell, appearance, and performance will be best if used before the date. The manufacturer cannot guarantee that the product will taste good after this date.
This label is used for products with pack dates, and it helps factories and stores keep track of their products and help them rotate. This label is most commonly found on non-perishable items such as cans or aseptic (TetraPak) or dry goods such as crackers, cookies and herbs.

You might see “Use/freeze by on perishable items such as meat.” This is the time you need to preserve the product’s peak quality. According to the USDA, it does not affect the safety or purchase dates.

What are the sell-by dates?

The most valuable category is sell-by dates. This allows retailers to organize their inventory strategically and arrange their products to encourage older shipments to sell more quickly. Intuitively, customers gravitate to the top of the shelf and not the bottom. They can identify the products that must be sold in the best condition sooner and place them closer to the customers. This reduces the chance of misinterpretation of the date leading to more food being thrown away or ordered. It also allows stores to see when to order more stock.
Most dairy, greens and cold cuts prefer sell-by labels. You can eat those items even after the expiration date, and they don’t expect you to eat your food on the day it is sold.
A week is a maximum time for lunch meats; however, vacuum-sealed cold cuts take much longer. The handling of milk, yogurt, cream and cottage cheese will affect how it is stored when it has been out of refrigeration and whether it is opened and exposed to potential spoilers such as mold. Eggs are safe up to five weeks after their printed date.

What about other dates printed on the food label

Manufacturers use the closed dating code to identify the production date for shelf-stable products like canned and boxed foods.
This series of numbers and letters can confuse food producers, but it is essential for quality assurance. It will be requested in customer service complaints, such as when shrimp were found in a container of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. However, it does not have any relation to a best by recommendation. It may be what helps them (and you) in extreme cases. Track if the bag of salad that you purchased was in a contaminated batch. This could indicate whether it came into contact with bacteria like E. coli.
You might also find “package dates” on a variety of non-perishables. Any USDA-graded egg carton must display this information so the consumer can know when the eggs were washed and graded. Although a sell-by or expiration date might be required in some states, it is not mandatory.
You may also see Quality Assurance Dates on long-lasting items such as cereal, pasta, peanut butter, and condiments like mustard and mayonnaise. This is an example of “best before used by” as they don’t guarantee any satisfaction beyond the product’s expiration date. They disclose that the product’s quality, flavor, texture and potency could deteriorate. You can still eat it as long as it passes the tests.

Laura Mariano

Written by Laura Mariano

Laura Mariano is a food blogger who founded Recipes By Gymonset.com to make cooking easier. Growing up on a farm in Spain, Laura was inspired by exquisite dishes prepared using simple ingredients. Laura Mariano is particularly known for making anyone can cook.

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