The Food Date Vocabulary Problem

When you purchase food items at your local grocery store, you may notice a printed sell by date, use by date or best before date on the packaging and wonder just what that date really means. Here at Eat By Date we are doing our best to make sure that you, the conscious consumer, are fully informed about the true shelf life of the most popular food items. As we have learned, most food is still edible after their printed expiration dates have passed.

When reviewing the printed date on the food item in question, you may find it interesting to learn the following facts associated with the shelf life of foods.

Food Shelf Life Laws

Shelf Life of Eggs

  • Food Can Be Sold After a Date Expires – Stores are not legally required to remove food from the shelf once the expiration date has passed.  The expiration dates are strictly “advisory” in nature and are left entirely to the discretion of the manufacturer, thus not truly indicative of an items true Shelf Life.[1]

  • Food Dates Are Not Required By Law – With the exception of infant formula and baby food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require food companies to place dates on their food products. The only requirement is that the food is wholesome and fit for consumption.

  • Laws Vary By State – States have varying food dating laws. For example, many states require that milk and other perishables be sold before the expiration date, while others do not.

  • Food Shelf Life Definition

    Below is a standard definition for “Shelf Life,” but please see the individual pages of this website for specific food items in order to know how long each may be safely used and for other specific Shelf Life information.

    So, what is the “Shelf Life” of a food item?

    The “Shelf Life” of food is how long it may be stored (exist on a shelf) before the quality deteriorates. Shelf life is used in reference to these common codes: (Use by Date, Sell by Date, and Best Before Date). The Shelf Life depends on which code is used and the type of product in question. Please see the specific page for your product to determine the proper shelf life of food because the Shelf Life is different for each particular item!

    To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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