My dad emailed me a while ago telling me to check out this information about food product dating, and basically all the verbiage you could ever ask for about shelf-life of products! I would like to share it with you because it's so useful. Use this information to help you when you're organizing your pantry or stockpile.
Types of Dates
- Sell-by - Tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should purchase the product before the date expires.
- Best if used by (or before) - Recommended for best flavor or quality. Not a purchase or safety date.
- Use-by - Last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
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. If product has a "use-by" date, follow that date.
If foods are mishandled, however, foodborne bacteria can grow and cause foodborne illness — before or after the date on the package. For example, if hot dogs are taken to a picnic and left out several hours, they might not be safe if used thereafter, even if the date hasn't expired.
Dating Formula and Baby Food
Federal regulations require a "use-by" date on the product label of infant formula and the varieties of baby food under FDA inspection. If consumed by that date, the formula or food must contain not less than the quantity of each nutrient as described on the label. Formula must maintain an acceptable quality to pass through an ordinary bottle nipple. If stored too long, formula can separate and clog the nipple.
Dating of baby food is for quality as well as for nutrient retention. Just as you might not want to eat stale potato chips, you wouldn't want to feed your baby meat or other foods that have an off flavor or texture.
The "use-by" date is selected by the manufacturer, packer or distributor of the product on the basis of product analysis throughout its shelf life, tests, or other information. It is also based on the conditions of handling, storage, preparation, and use printed on the label. Do not buy or use baby formula or baby food after its "use-by" date.
What do the codes on cans mean?
Cans must exhibit a packing code to enable tracking of the product in interstate commerce. This enables manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as to locate their products in the event of a recall.
These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They aren't meant for the consumer to interpret as "use-by" dates. There is no book or Web site that tells how to translate the codes into dates.
Cans may also display "open" or calendar dates. Usually these are "best if used by" dates for peak quality.
In general, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple will retain best quality on the shelf for 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will retain best quality on the shelf for 2 to 5 years — if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, dry place.
Dates on egg cartons
Use of either a "Sell-By" or "Expiration" (EXP) date is not federally required, but may be State required, as defined by the egg laws in the State where the eggs are marketed. Some State egg laws do not allow the use of a "sell-by" date.
Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the "pack date" (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). The number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a "sell-by" date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 45 days from the date of pack.
Always purchase eggs before the "Sell-By" or "EXP" date on the carton. After the eggs reach home, refrigerate the eggs in their original carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not 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.
Refrigerator Home Storage (at 40 degrees F or lower) of Fresh or Uncooked Products
If product has a "sell-by" date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the following chart.
Poultry - store in refrigerator 1-2 days after purchase
Beef, veal, pork and lamb - store in refrigerator 3-5 days after purchase
Ground meat and ground poultry - store in refrigerator 1 or 2 days
Fresh variety meats (liver, tongue, brain, heart, chitterlings, kidneys) - store in refrigerator 1 or 2 days
Cured ham, cook-before-eating - store in refrigerator 5-7 days
Sausage from pork, beef, or turkey, uncooked - store in refrigerator 1 to 2 days
Eggs - store in refrigerator 3-5 weeks
Refrigerator Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant
Cooked poultry - store in refrigerator unopened for 3-4 days; store in refrigerator after opening 3-4 days
Cooked sausage - store in refrigerator unopened for 3-4 days; store in refrigerator after opening 3-4 days
Sausage (hard, dry, shelf-stable) - store in the pantry for 6 weeks unopened; 3 weeks after opening
Corned beef (uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices) - store in refrigerator unopened for 5-7 days; store in refrigerator after opening 3-4 days
Vacuum-packed dinners; Commercial brand with USDA seal - store in refrigerator unopened 2 weeks; store in refrigerator after opening 3-4 days
Bacon - store in refrigerator unopened for 2 weeks; store in refrigerator after opening 7 days
Hot dogs - store in refrigerator unopened for 2 weeks; store in refrigerator after opening 1 week
Luncheon meat - store in refrigerator unopened for 2 weeks; store in refrigerator after opening 3-5 days
Ham, fully cooked - store in refrigerator unopened for 7 days; store in refrigerator after opening in slices for 3 days or a whole ham for 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled "keep refrigerated" - store in refrigerator unopened for 9 months; store in refrigerator after opening 3-4 days
Ham, canned, shelf-stable - store in the pantry for 2 years unopened; after opening store in refrigerator for 3-5 days
Canned meat and poultry, shelf-stable - store in the pantry for 2-5 years unopened; after opening store in refrigerator for 3-4 days
All this information came from the United States Food Safety and Inspection Service website.