Natural Storage Systems

Reshaping the way the world keeps its products

Expiration Dates on Food Packaging

Source: WRAP, Consumer Insight: Date Labels and Storage Guidance, May, 2011. www.wrap.org.

Expiration dates on food packaging can be a challenge to read and understand. 

Reduce Expiration Date Confusion

“Use by” and “best by” dates, commonly found on both perishable and nonperishable products, are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. They do not indicate food safety, as is commonly believed, nor are they regulated. The exception to this is infant formula, for which “use by” dates are federally regulated, and some other specific products in certain states. This is generally not how consumers interpret these dates. Many people believe they indicate a product’s safety and discard food as soon as it reaches its expiration date. Research on date labeling in the U.K. by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) shows that 45 to 49 percent of consumers misunderstand the meaning of date labels, resulting in an enormous amount of prematurely discarded food. In fact, WRAP estimates that up to 20 percent of household food waste is linked to date labeling confusion. This led the U.K. government to recently revise its guidance on date labeling such that now 1) “sell by” and “display until” labels should be removed to avoid confusion for shoppers, with different ways of tracking stock control explored by retailers; 2) “Best before” dates relate to food quality, including taste, texture, and appearance, but do not indicate that eating product past that date will be harmful; 3) “use by” dates relate to food safety; and 4) food may not be sold after the “use by” date, but retailers can, with the exception of eggs, sell products after the “best before” date, provided they are safe to eat.


Sources: WRAP, Consumer Insight: Date Labels and Storage Guidance, May, 2011. www.wrap.org.


Food Standards Agency, Guidance to end confusing date labels, Food Standards Agency, September 15, 2011, www.food.gov. U.K./news/news archive/2011/sep/date labels.

Expiration Dates, Explained

by Laura Schwecherl · Health

Here’s some food for thought: Expiration dates refer to quality and freshness of food, not safety. (Yep, that’s a shocker!) So even if a food item passes its expiration date, that item could technically still be safe to eat. We dug a little deeper to find out what different types of “expiration” dates really indicate, and if they can be useful for consumers.

Lawless Labels — The Need-to-Know

Expiration dates on food and drink products are not required or regulated by Federal administrators (with the exception of infant formula). Those mysterious dates printed on food containers telling us when to purchase, eat, or throw out that tub of yogurt by are actually decided by each individual manufacturer. To complicate things even more, the printed numbers can mean multiple things, and there’s no continuity between types of products. So we’ve spelled it out for you with help from the USDA:

  1. “Sell-By.” This number is for the store, letting employers know how long a certain product can stay on the shelf. You should buy the food item before this date passes to ensure it’s fresh.
  2. “Best if Used Before/By.” This date helps specify when a product is at its peak freshness. It does not indicate the safety of the item. Buy and use before this date for best quality.
  3. “Use-By.” These dates indicate when a product will start deteriorating in quality and flavor. (Again, it’s not a safety guide!) Again, it’s best to buy and use products before this date for best quality, but consuming the product a few days late won’t kill ya.
  4. Closed or coded dates. These are packing codes that track the product when it is being shipped. These codes are typically a series of numbers and letters that indicate dates and times the container was filled, and places of manufacture. (They look something like this: 045B97 April 11, 2008.) They should not be interpreted as “use-by” dates.

Unfortunately, there’s no predetermined number of days that determine how long certain foods stay edible.

Source of information:

The diagrams and information found on this website are based on our own data, used by permission, or on information found in reference literature from the source posted.