Decoding Dates and Numbers on Packaged Foods

Reading food label
Photo from: TheFamilyGP.com

If you’re confused by all of the random numbers printed on canned, boxed, or packaged food items, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Here are some tips to help you decode those numbers and decide what is the best course of action to take.

 

What do the dates mean?

Since there is little federal regulation on product dating, the format may differ for each company that voluntarily chooses to include such dates. Here are a few dates in particular that you should pay attention to:

  • “Best if used by/best before”: eat the item by this date in order to ensure best flavor and quality. The food item is safe to consume a little while after peak freshness.
  • “Use by/before“: similar to the “best if used by/best before” date, this date indicates the last day the item will be at its peak quality. After this date, product quality (i.e., color, flavor) will gradually deteriorate. Since this date is similar to an expiration date, it is advised to discard the item past this printed date.
  • “Sell by”: indicates the last day the manufacturer can have the item displayed for sale. While this date is less of a concern for canned foods due to their long shelf-life, it is helpful for rotating cans and making sure that older items are eaten first.

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