For Most of Us, Food Label Dates Are Confuse-by Dates

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on September 13, 2018 · 0 comments

More than 80% of Americans misinterpret label dates and throw away food prematurely under the misconception that the food is unsafe to eat. Congress is working on the Food Date Labeling Act but until they get their act together and pass a bill this may help you sort out the confusion.

Sell-by dates are meant more for store shelving policies than for the consumer. These are suggested dates for when items should be displayed. Many baked goods with sell-by dates wind up in day-old stores and they still perfectly fine to eat.

Best-by or best-if-used-by dates relate to flavor and freshness characteristics. All these items, if stored properly can be used after this date.

Use-by dates refer to quality. In most cases the food is still edible, but the cereal may be slightly stale or in the case of eggs they will be harder to separate but the nutritional value remains the same.

The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are attempting to get food companies to eliminate this label date confusion by voluntarily dating all food in two simple categories. Best If Used By will describe product quality. The food may not taste or perform as expected but it is safe to use and eat after the date. Use By will be placed on foods that are highly perishable and there could be a food safety concern over time. These foods should not be eaten after the date listed on the package. This voluntary dating system started to be phased in during the summer of 2018.   

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