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Have you ever been going through your refrigerator and notice that one item’s sell-by date is fast approaching? Should you still eat it? Should you buy another one with a later date? We have some information to help make those questions a little bit easier to answer, and hopefully help reduce food waste too.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. Billions of dollars worth of food are wasted each year, with some of that due to confusion over dating on food products. Misunderstanding of these dates often leads us to throw out food that is still good to eat.

A better understanding of food dates will not only help reduce wasted food, but can help you save money in the long run by buying less food.

With the exception of infant formula, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require food companies to place “sell by”, “best by”, or “use by”  dates on food products. According to the FDA, this information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. But don’t worry, we’ve put together this post to explain the differences between these dates and help prepare you for your next shopping trip.


Sell-by Date

Sell-by dates are created by manufacturers and tell stores how long to display a product for sale. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the product has gone bad or poses a health risk if eaten after this date. Many products can still be eaten a few days after a sell-by date, but experts don’t recommend going much beyond that time frame.


Best-by Date

Best-by dates are the recommended time frame to use a product for best quality or appearance. It’s the manufacturer’s suggestion for when the food will taste freshest. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), this is not a purchase date or a safety date. It’s an indicator of when to use a product for the best taste, not necessarily when to throw the item out.


Expiration or Use-by Date

Use-by or expiration time frames are the last dates recommended to use a product while it is at peak quality. Products that are past their expiration or use-by dates typically should not be consumed.

Publix is working with other organizations such as the Grocery Manufacturer Association and the Food Marketing Institute to help bring awareness to the need for a more uniform system for date labeling.


Things to Note

You may often see additional numbers on your package that are located near the expiration date, these are usually packing codes or can codes. These codes allow for better tracking by the manufacturer and makes it easier to locate products in the event of a recall. Appearing as a series of letters and/or numbers, this text might even refer to the date or time of manufacture.

Foods age differently, so you should continue to evaluate the quality of your food prior to eating it. For more information on food storage guidelines, you can visit FoodSafety.gov for a helpful table.

Now that you’re armed with this new information, go out and conquer your shopping list with confidence.

Aijana W.

Written by

If you love to read about ways to use your favorite products and foods in surprising ways, Aijana W. is going to be the blogger to watch. A member of the Publix family since 2014, Aijana loves to explore the diverse corners of social media and hopes you leave our blog with great ideas as well as a better sense of who Publix is as a company. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, dancing, trying new restaurants, and of course – eating Publix GreenWise Salted Caramel Ice Cream!

3 Comments on “Use-By, Best-By and Sell-By Dates—A Shopper’s Guide

      1. Robert

        Don’t understand why Karleigh’s question couldn’t be answered here. This question will be important to some like myself for much longer after it was initially asked. Trying to find if answer was posted, let alone what that answer is, through all the Twitter and Facebook posts/messages on those websites is cumbersome and time consuming.

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