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How do I interpret the dates stamped on foods?

Ask Peggy

Peggy Woodward, RD

DEAR PEGGY: How do I interpret the dates that are stamped on foods? —L.B., Union, New Jersey

There are two types of date-related information on foods: Closed or coded dating appears on shelf-stable products such as canned goods and boxed items. Used to identify batch runs, closed dates are generally not very useful to the consumer.

Open dating, however, is the system used by shoppers from coast to coast. These dates appear on perishables.

There are three basic types of open dates:

  • Best-if-used-by date: For the best flavor or quality, use the product before this date. It is not a safety date, however.
  • Use-by date: The last date recommended for the use of the product while it's at peak quality. It is best to use the product by this date.
  • Sell-by date: Indicates when stores should remove the product from display. Always purchase food before its sell-by date expires. How long the food is safe to eat after this date depends on the item itself.

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