Did you know that food is often good to consume after the listed expiration date on its packaging?

We know that the expiration dates listed on food items can be confusing, so let us help explain their meaning and focus.

First, a few fun facts:

  • the only food item required to have an expiration date listed is infant formula.
  • there are no universally accepted descriptions used for food labels in the US--which is why there are so many phrases used!

Aside from a few certain products, the expiration terms used are mostly to depict freshness and quality, not safety concerns.

The USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service defines the most common terms used:

  • A "Best if Used By/Before" date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
  • A “Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
  • A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

Understanding these terms can help you determine the longevity of your food and learning the expected shelf life of various items can cut down on the amount of food you waste or throw away. Our partners at the University of Florida IFAS outline some guidelines for different food life spans below:

  • Dairy can be used 5-7 days past the "sell by" date
  • Eggs can be used 3-5 weeks past the "sell by" date
  • Deli meats and cheeses can be used up to 4 days after slicing
  • Expiration dates on shelf stable foods like crackers, pasta, and cereal depict freshness and quality, not safety concerns
  • Canned foods are good for 2-3 years, as long as they are not dented or swollen
  • Perishable foods abide by the rule: when in doubt, throw it out
  • Baby products should not be used past the stated expiration date

Following these guidelines will stretch your groceries further and in turn, cut down on the amount of food wasted. If you have any specific questions about a product, always reach out to the customer service number listed on the packaging.

Have another question? Feel free to contact our team!