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Food Dating Helps Assure Quality

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri Extension


You can’t see the food inside many packages you buy at the grocery store making it hard to know if the food is fresh. “Open Dating” is a calendar date stamped on a package that is used by the store to determine how long to display the food. The date can also be used by consumers to help with selecting the freshest food.


There are three types of dates you might find on a food that you purchase.


  • If the package says “Sell By” you should purchase the food before the date listed. The “sell by” date tells the grocer how long to display the food. The food should remain good for a period of time once you get it home.
  • “Best if Used By” is not a purchase or safety date. The date stamped after that term is the date the food should be used by for best flavor or quality.
  • A “Use By” date is the last date recommended for peak quality of the product.


All three terms are just guides to help you determine the quality of the food. The food can be safe and of good quality after any of the three above open-dating terms are used. It is important that food be stored properly on the shelf or at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in the refrigerator.


To give you an idea of how long you can store fresh foods at home after purchase:


  • Poultry, ground meat and ground poultry, and sausage should be stored only one to two days.
  • Fresh beef, veal, lamb and pork can be stored 3-5 days.
  • Eggs can be stored 3-5 weeks after purchase.


Processed foods sealed at the plant can be stored longer.


  • Cooked sausage or poultry can be stored 3-4 days unopened after purchase and then 3-4 days after opening.
  • Bacon, hot dogs and luncheon meats can be stored two weeks unopened after purchase.
  • Once opened, bacon and hot dogs should be used within one week and luncheon meat should be used in 3-5 days.


Except for infant formula and some baby food, product dating is not required by federal law. It is voluntarily done by the food manufacturer to help the grocer know how long to display a food and help the consumer make the best choice for food quality.


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Last update: Wednesday, September 25, 2013