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Food package date lingo confusing

Posted by: admin at 12:00 am on April 21st, 2016


Food package date lingo confusing
By Phylis Canion


I get so confused by dates on products! Some say "Best by," "Use by, "Sell by," "Consume by" and so on, and I am not sure which each means. Any clarification would be most helpful.

Use by dates and other "dates" listed on food products are contributing to millions of pounds of wasted food each year. A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard's Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic says Americans are prematurely throwing out food largely because of confusion over what expiration dates actually mean. The only items required by federal law to be labeled for expiration are infant formula and some baby food products, according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

The FDA does not require food firms to place "expired by," "use by," "best before" or any other terms on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.

However, there are many terms stamped on food products, and it is helpful to have an idea what each means. There is a sell by date, best if used by date, born on (refers to beer) date, guaranteed fresh date, use by date, pack date and expiration date. "Sell by" simply tells the store how long to display the product.

The issue is quality of the item with its freshness, taste and consistency. "Best if used by" refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavor.

"Born on" has recently been resurrected by beer manufacturers, since beer can go sub-par after three months. Beer in dark bottles is recommended over beer in clear bottles since light can reactivate microorganisms in the beer.

"Guaranteed fresh" usually refers to bakery items. "Use by" is the last date recommended for peak quality and is determined by the manufacturer. "Pack" usually refers to canned and packaged goods and can be very confusing because the date can be listed MMDDYY (month, day, year) or it could be listed as per the Julian calendar.

One important note to remember: Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn't matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe for longer periods of time. I hope this clears some confusion.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: Build your own dreams or someone else will hire you to build theirs.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant; email her at docphylis@gmail.com. This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.