Food Freshness: What’s the Date?

Have you ever been confused by the dates you find on food labels? Here’s a rundown on what they mean:

Packed On

This is the date the food was packaged. Frozen foods are best used within two months of a pack date. Canned foods should be used within a year of the packing date.

Best if Used By

This is the date the product will have the highest quality. In most cases, however, it can be safely consumed past that date. Eating the product after that date won’t hurt you, but the taste may suffer.

Sell By

This is the last day the product should be sold. It’s also the “pull” date, or the date it should be removed from store shelves. These dates are found on breads, dairy products, cold cuts and fresh fruit juices. Most foods that are past their sell-by date can still be safely eaten after this date. For example, milk stays fresh for about a week after the sell-by date if properly refrigerated. Fresh fish, meat, and poultry should be eaten within a day or two past the sell-by date, or frozen.

Expiration Date

This is the last date the food is safe to eat. These dates are often found on yeast, dairy products and baby formula. Eggs are an exception and may be used safely for a month after the expiration date if they have been refrigerated properly.

A Safety Warning

Never eat food from a bulging can no matter what the date. The food is likely contaminated and you could get food poisoning.

Put dates on foods you repackage and freeze. Most foods can be safely frozen for months, but the quality and flavor of meat, fish and poultry are likely to deteriorate.

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