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Understanding dates on food packages

By By Brenda Anderson
March 11, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 10, 2014 at 10:11 p.m.


The dates on food packages will tell you when a food was manufactured, how long that food will be fresh and when food should be thrown away because it is unsafe to eat.

By law, only infant formulas are required to be dated. Dates on other foods are optional and are determined by each product's manufacturer.

Sell-by dates are designed to tell grocery stores when they should no longer sell a food item. Foods nearing the sell-by date may be discounted, but make sure the package is intact and there are no signs that the food has been mishandled before buying those foods.

Best-if-used-by dates are often seen on canned and frozen foods and commercially prepared cereals, grains and crackers. The best-if-used-by date really has to do with quality and not necessarily safety. It is recommended that foods stamped with this type of date should be eaten before that date has passed to get the best quality and flavor.

The use-by date is another type of date found on foods. This is the last date that a food should be eaten if you want the best quality.

Most foods are safe to eat after their sell-by, best-if-used-by and use-by dates if the food has been handled and stored properly. However, washed and bagged produce is an exception. With washed and bagged produce, it is recommended that the product be thrown away after any stamped date is passed.

Another type of date found on foods is an expiration date. Baby formula, baby food and eggs usually come with an expiration date, and most foods should be thrown away after their expiration date has passed. The exception to this recommendation is eggs.

If eggs are handled and stored properly, they can be safely used for up to 30 days after the date stamped on the carton because the date stamped on a carton of eggs is related to quality, not food safety.

For example, if a carton of eggs were Grade A and showed an expiration date of Jan. 23, then those eggs will be Grade A quality up until Jan. 23. After Jan. 23, the eggs are still safe to use for 30 more days, but the quality of the eggs may decline.

Also know that switching eggs out from one carton to another is against regulations because of safety and tracking reasons. The best thing to do if you find a cracked or dirty egg in a carton is to just choose a whole new carton.

Using the dates on food packages can help assure that you are using the safest foods. And remember, when in doubt, throw it out.

Brenda Anderson is a Victoria County extension assistant.

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