Understanding dates on food labels
By Nancy Nelson
Meadowlark District (Kan.) Extension Agent
Recently, I was helping my mother by checking dates on her canned foods. Wasted food is increasing because consumers are confused about what dates on foods really mean. Do they indicate a food safety issue or food quality issue?
Product dating is only required by federal law on infant formula. Otherwise, it is voluntary. Some states require dates on some foods, some do not. This adds to the confusion.
In most cases, keeping food after the date on the package can be safe, but the quality diminishes. Some examples include staling, flavor loss, off flavors develop, color changes, and more.
“Open dating” is an actual date to tell the store how long a product can be displayed for sale. It is not a safety date. Examples are “use by” and “sell by” dates. These are used on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. After those dates, the food should still be safe a few days, but the quality will diminish. These foods could be cooked or frozen to extend their life.
“Closed or coded” dating refers to packing numbers and information used by the manufacturer. These are found on shelf-stable boxed or canned foods. These codes help manufacturers track the food through the food handling system. The code typically indicates the date the food was manufactured.
In all cases, how a food is stored will affect the true shelf life. Storage temperature, light exposure, humidity and other factors will shorten shelf life. Learn more about food dating at http://1.usa.gov/126z3ck. u