LDS Emergency Preparedness

Be Prepared, Not Scared!

Date Labeling on Foods

Posted by Elise on November 12, 2009

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Except for infant formula and some baby foods, product dating is not generally required by the federal government.  Dating of some foods is required in over 20 states but there is no uniform accepted dating system in the U.S.  There are some areas where almost none of the food is dated.

Types of Dates

A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.

  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

Safety After Expiration Date
Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always refer to home storage and use after purchase. “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. But even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality — if handled properly and kept at 40° F or below. See the accompanying refrigerator charts for storage times of dated products. If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date. If product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the chart.

Codes on Cans
Can codes are usually made up of letters and/or numbers.  This lets the manufacture to track products in interstate commerce. They also use this code to rotate their stock, and to find their products in the case of a recall.  These codes are not meant for the consumer.

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Generally, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored 12 to 18 months.  Low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables can keep 2 to 5 years.  The cans need to be stored in a cool, clean, and dry place.

Egg Cartons“Sell by” or “expiration” dates are not required by the federal government, but may be required by your state.   Many eggs reach the stores a few days after the hen lays them.

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Egg cartons with the USDA grade on must give the “pack date”.  This is the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and packed into the carton.  The code date can not exceed 45 days from the packing date.  The 3 digit code uses the “Julian Date”.   It starts with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365.

Always buy eggs before the “Sell-By” or “EXP” date. At home refrigerate the eggs in their original carton and put them in the coldest part of the refrigerator.  Do not store them in the door. For best quality, use eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of the date you purchase them. The “sell-by” date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs are perfectly safe to use.

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UPC or Bar Codes
Universal Product Codes are black lines over a series of numbers. They are not required by law but are printed so supermarket scanners can “read” the price at checkout.  They are also used for inventory.  Bar Codes are not used to identify recalled products.

Storage Tips
Product dates are not a guide for the food’s safety.   Follow these tips to store food and still be able to keep it at top quality:

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • If perishable, take the food home right away after buying and refrigerate it immediately. Freeze it if you can’t use it within the times recommended on chart.
  • Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn’t matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • Follow handling recommendations on product.
  • Consult the following storage chart.

Refrigerator Home Storage (at 40 °F or below) of Fresh or Uncooked Products If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date.  If product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the chart below.

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Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products
Product Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry 1 or 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) 1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked 1 or 2 days
Eggs RefrigeratorHome Storage (at 40 °F or below) of Processed Products Sealed at Plant If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date.  If product has a “sell-by” or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the chart below.

Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant
Processed Product Unopened, After Purchase After Opening
Cooked Poultry 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Cooked Sausage 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable 6 weeks/pantry 3 weeks
Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices 5 to 7 days 3 to 4 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal 2 weeks 3 to 4 days
Bacon 2 weeks 7 days
Hot dogs 2 weeks 1 week
Luncheon meat 2 weeks 3 to 5 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days slices, 3 days; whole, 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled “keep refrigerated” 9 months 3 to 4 days
Ham, canned, shelf stable 2 years/pantry 3 to 5 days
Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable 2 to 5years/pantry 3 to 4 days

(Source:  U.S. Gov’t/2-8-08)

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