Best Used By Dates- What do they actually mean?


Reading expiration dates can be confusing. There is no standardized way that manufacturers are required to date their products, so it can seem like each product has a differently formatted expiration date on its packaging. Because of this individualized way of labeling products, there are certainly a lot of questions about expiration dates. As such, here are the answers to 3 of the most frequently asked questions about them.


Is it illegal for grocery stores to sell expired products?

It is not illegal for grocery stores to sell expired products. In fact, with the exception of baby formula and baby food, the FDA doesn’t even require expiration dates to be included on food packaging. Some states do however have specific regulations on products such as dairy and fresh meat. The main reason expiration dates are carried on products is for quality purposes. For example, if you have ever had freshly made potato chips you know that they taste far better than the ones you get in a bag. The same is true for chips that are freshly bagged and those that have sat on the shelf for several years.

35% of shoppers say they are extremely likely to stop shopping a store after noticing a trend in expired product purchases. Click here to see how else expired products are affecting your bottom line.

What is the difference between different titles before expiration dates such as best used by dates?

There are several different terminologies used to describe the dating of food products:

  • Expiration date: This is the LAST day that you should eat an item. It may be good after this date, but we DO NOT recommend that you eat it or sell it if you are a grocer.
  • Sell by: This is a quality date that tells grocers the last day that they should offer an item for sale to customers. Buying a product that is past the sell by date may not be a good idea as the quality will not be as high.
  • Best used by dates: These dates refer to quality, not to a date on which the product is unsafe. Essentially, past this date manufacturers no longer guarantee freshness.
  • Guaranteed fresh by: These titles are most commonly used on bakery items.
  • Packed or Born On dates: As you can guess, these refer to the dates in which the products were packaged or created. The time frame in which these items should be consumed varies. You won’t need to worry about expired canned food with packed on dates for at least a year, but other products may not last as long. We recommend that you call the manufacturer if you are concerned that a product is unsafe or if you are a grocer and are unsure if you should be selling the product anymore.

Are products safe to eat past their expiration dates?

As we mentioned above, many “expiration dates” such as best used by dates simply refer to a peak quality point. As such, many products are safe to eat after that point. However, how long they are safe truly depends on the product. If you are worried, use the sniff test. If a product smells spoiled then you should throw it away.

Click here to visit a site that provides more information on expiration dates as well as charts on specific items and how far past their printed dates they are safe to consume.

About the author

Andrew Hoeft