What does Sell by mean? Or the Sell by date.. Or the Best before date meaning? The Use by date? Or Best if used by date?
Are you confused yet? Are these really Expiration Dates? Is this when the food goes bad?
Should I throw it out after the Best if used by date?
Many are mistaken about what these ‘Use-by’, ‘Best-by’, and ‘Sell-by’ dates really mean.
The date stamp typically seen on foods (e.g. canned food) was never about public health. Rather, freshness. Or peak freshness. Consumers mistakenly believe it’s primarily a safety thing. However, it’s actually not…
Use-by Date & Best-by Date
The ‘Use-by’ and ‘Best-by’ dates are intended for consumer use.
It is the date the manufacturer deems the product PEAK FRESHNESS, at which time its freshness begins to diminish.
It is NOT a date to indicate spoilage. Nor does it necessarily signal that the food is no longer safe to eat.
Again, it is not intended to be the date at which the food should be thrown out. Unfortunately lots and lots of food is wasted each year from this misunderstanding.
The ‘Sell-by’ date is only intended to help manufacturers and retailers, not consumers.
The ‘Sell-by’ date is a stocking and marketing tool provided by food makers. It is intended to ensure proper turnover of the products in the store so they still have a long shelf life after consumers buy them.
Consumers, however, are misinterpreting it as a date to guide their buying decisions. Some say that “Sell-by” dates should be made invisible to the consumer.
Millions of Pounds of Food Wasted from confusion about Use-by dates
Use-by dates are contributing to millions of pounds of wasted food each year.
A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic says:
Americans are prematurely throwing out food, largely because of confusion over what “expiration dates” actually mean.
More than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely. 40% of the U.S. food supply is tossed out unused every year because of food dating.
Most people do not understand what ‘Use-by’, ‘Best-by’, and ‘Sell-by’ dates really mean. Actually they are not “expiration” dates.
The fact that so much food is thrown out is stunning, and unbelievably wasteful…
‘Use by’ Dates are Not Necessarily About Safety
Most consumers mistakenly believe that “expiration dates” on food indicate how safe the food is to consume.
These dates are NOT related to the risk of food poisoning or food-borne illness.
It’s About Freshness
The dates solely indicate FRESHNESS. And are used by manufacturers to convey when the product is at its peak. That means the food does not expire in the sense of becoming inedible.
For non-refrigerated foods, there may be no difference in taste or quality. “Expired” foods won’t necessarily make people sick.
But according to the report’s analysis, words like “Use-by” and “Sell-by” are used so inconsistently that they contribute to widespread misinterpretation — and waste — by consumers.
Use-by, Sell-by, Best-by Food Date Was Never About Public Health
Food dating was never about public health. There is no national regulation over the use of the dates.
The only federally required and regulated food dating involves infant formula, since the nutrients in formula lose their potency as time goes on.
What regulation does exist occurs at the state level. All but nine states in the United States have food dating rules but these vary widely.
“What’s resulted from [the FDA letting states come up with regulation] is really a patchwork of all sorts of different rules for different products and regulations around them,”
-Dana Gunders, staff scientist with the NRDC
“Sometimes a product needs a date, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a product cannot be sold after a different date. Or there is no requirement at all.
Even with different categories there is so much variability.”The result is a confused public — and tons of wasted food.
I have consumed many foods well outside of the best used by date. No problem. Canned foods have been commercially processed so that the contents inside are safe. Although the nutritional value and freshness may have diminished to an extent beyond the ‘best by’ date, the canned food has remained safe to eat.
With that said, my experience indicates that many typical canned foods have an approximate 2 year ‘use by’ date. So I do rotate my foods on the shelf (or wherever its stored) so I use the oldest first. This is called First in, First out. It’s the best way to optimize for freshness and goodness :-)
[ Read: Food Storage – Date and Rotate ]
Tip: Tomato products/high acid foods in cans do not last as long as non acid. Acid breaks down the lining on the can.
A final thought.. With regard to consuming foods well beyond the best if used by date.. When in doubt, throw it out. Use your eyes and nose too. Does it look bad? Does it smell ‘off’? Use common sense.
[ Read: Prepper Food Storage Mistakes To Avoid ]