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  • Questions about dates on food? Our Food Safety Team has answers.

Questions about dates on food? Our Food Safety Team has answers.


Understanding product dates helps prevent food waste. Here’s what all that info means.

Dairy Department

Food waste has been a big topic in the food safety industry lately and it’s something that is close to our hearts as a grocer. We’ve taken a number of steps in our stores to help address this issue. 

If you’re wondering how our food safety system and food waste is connected, we’ve got that information here. Here are a few ways you can reduce food waste AND make sure the food you have at home is safe.

Understand product dates: Most people aren’t aware of this, but the federal government doesn’t require ‘sell by’ dates on items except for infant formula. It’s actually states that choose to enforce their own regulations on certain commodities.

In Wisconsin, for example, eggs, smoked fish and baby food are all required to have a ‘sell by’ date on them. What about everything else? Perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables, for example, usually have a sell by on the package but this is mainly for the manufacturers and packers to help ensure consumers purchase their products at peak quality or freshness. It doesn’t necessarily mean it “expires” on that date. 

Knowing that may help when deciding whether to toss that milk in the fridge that is one day past date. Here’s a quick breakdown of the terms you see on packages:

– Sell By indicates product should not be sold after specified date if the buyer is to have it at its best quality. 

– Use By or Best By is the manufacturer’s estimate of how long a product will keep at peak quality.

– Freeze By is the manufacturer’s estimate of when you should freeze product if you’re not going to be using it right away.

– Enjoy By is really just another term that manufacturer’s use to denote peak quality. 

These dates, however, don’t indicate the safety of the food. Generally speaking, if product is stored properly and the appropriate temperature is maintained, the food is safe and of good, wholesome quality.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to reference storage practices and how long different foods are good for, or even how long you can freeze products, check out the FoodKeeper App. It was developed by the USDA and the Food Marketing Institute to reduce food waste and inform consumers.

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