Confused by Date Labels on Packaged Foods?

Health and Wellness Nutrition Education

How to Know Food is Still Good to Eat While Also Reducing Waste in Your Home

The variety of terms used with date labels, such as “use before,” “sell by,” “expires on,” and many more that appear on packaged foods often result in uncertainty about the meaning of these dates and contribute to about 20% of food waste in the home. For example, “Best if Used By” dates relate to the quality, not safety, of food and if stored properly, products don't necessarily have to be discarded after that date. Predicting when a food will no longer be of adequate quality for consumption is not an exact science.

The key exception to this general rule is for infant formula products. These products are required to bear a “Use By” date, up to which the manufacturer has confirmed that the product contains no less than a minimum amount of each nutrient identified on the product label, and that the product will be of an acceptable quality.

WIC staff can use the Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) resources to help participants understand what these terms mean (and what they don't) and reduce food waste while maintaining food safety.

Additional online resources for consumers with questions about how long to keep perishable foods include: