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Know Your Codes
Sell by. This date means that a first line store (not salvage) must sell a product by this date or remove it from their shelf. Depending on the item, it might be good for a few days up to a couple weeks after this date. This date code is typically used on fresh items such as meat, produce and dairy.
Best by. You will find this date code on shelf stable items like dressings and peanut butter. As long as these items are stored properly, they should be safe for consumption past that date, sometimes for months, but you may see changes in color or separation of the parts of the product.
Use by. Also found mainly on shelf stable items, but this one tends to be found on items that have a longer shelf life. This one also tends to be a little more of a “you really want to use it by then” date. After the use by date has passed, it’s probably edible for a while, but you start to run a higher risk of the packaging breaking down or seals loosening. Either of those things can cause chemicals or air to mix with the product and potentially cause not only quality, but safety issues.
Expires on/Expiration date. Typically this code is not used on items other than baby food/formula and drugs (OTC and Rx). It is recommended by the government that you do not use items after a set expiration date on the package.
Packaging Codes. These will typically include one of the dated codes mentioned above, but also references a batch or production number that helps stores locate specific items in the event of a product quality or recall issue.
REMEMBER. These codes really only pertain to unopened packages. Once a can or jar has been opened, all bets are off and environmental factors can quickly cause spoilage. Proper sealing, repackaging or freezing can extend the shelf life of opened products.