The terms “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by” are notoriously confusing. While many shoppers err on the side of caution, increasing grocery costs mean that understanding these dates can lead to savings. 

What Your Food Labels Mean

Since there’s no federal standard for food labels, laws around product dates vary by state. Here’s what you can interpret from your food labels. 

Best If Used By and Best If Used Before

The terms “best if used by” and “best if used before” do not refer to your food’s expiration date. Instead, these phrases refer to flavor and quality. Once the date after your “best by” label passes, the taste of the food may become compromised

The “best by” labels can apply to any food category, including canned, boxed, frozen, or refrigerated. 

Use By

“Use by” is a little clearer. The “use by” date refers to the last date when the food is at its highest quality. “Use by” generally only applies to perishable items, such as dairy and meat products or prepared foods. 

Sell By

“Sell by” dates are more about inventory control than expiration. You can consume foods after the “sell by” date, but they should no longer carry them in stores. Typically, dairy products are suitable for a week after their “sell by” date, and eggs are safe to consume for three to five weeks after their “sell by” date. 

Expiration Date

Food may be assigned an expiration date due to loss of function after that date – like yeast that won’t rise – or changes in the safety or texture of the food. 

Foods assigned an expiration date include:

  • Baby formula
  • Baby food
  • Vitamins
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Cake mixes
  • Baking powders

While dates are helpful to track how long you’ve kept a food, unless the dates clearly state that the food expires, the best way to determine whether a food is spoiled is by examining it for changes in smell, color, texture, or consistency. 

Additionally, the best way to keep your meats, soups, and casseroles longer is to freeze them. Bacteria can’t grow at frozen temperatures, so frozen meals maintain their safety for years.

For more health awareness blogs, please visit www.stemedix.com/blog.

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