Popular Food Vocabulary & Shelf Life Terms @ Eat By Date

When you purchase food items at your local grocery store, you may notice a printed date on the packaging or the item itself and wonder what these dates really mean. Here at Eat By Date, we are doing our best to make sure that you, the fresh food consumer, are fully informed on Shelf Life information. As we have learned, most food is still edible after the expiration date. When reviewing these terms, you may find it interesting to learn a few facts:

  • Food Dating is not federally required, except for infant formula and baby food. Complicating matters further, states have varying laws. For example, many states require that milk and other perishables be sold before the expiration date, while others do not. The dates given in these codes represent the quality of the food at a certain date.
  • 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 not the items true Shelf Life.
  • Below is a standard definition for the most common codes, but please see our pages for specific items in order to find out how long each may be used.

    Food Dating Terms

    What is the “Sell By Date”?

    The “Sell By Date” on a product is the items expiration date, the end of its shelf life. This is the last date stores are supposed to display the product for sale, after the Sell By Date the stores should remove the product, the Shelf Life has expired. Although the food product may be used and ejoyed past this date, it is not recommended to purchase a product if the Sell By date has past.

    What is the “Best Before Date”?

    The “Best Before Date” is, according to the manufacturer, the last date by which a products flavor or quality is best before, the optimal time of its shelf life for quality. As noted above, the product may still be enjoyed after the “best before date.” Additionally the manufacturer may call this the “Best if Used By” date, which indicates that the quality of food might diminish after that date, but it is still good to eat and the shelf life is still active.

    What is the “Use By Date”?

    The “Use By Date” is the last day that the manufacturer vouches for the product’s quality. The use by date is the date the manufacturers recommend to use the product for “peak quality” in the food. So you may eat the food after the use by date, but it likely is not going to be at peak quality.

    Shelf Life Definition

    The “Shelf Life” of food is used in reference to these common codes (Use by Date, Sell by Date, and Best before). 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. Shelf Life is different for all types of food. Please check the Shelf Life of 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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