Some food manufacturers use “open dating,” or calendar dates stamped on a food product’s package, to help retailers determine how long to display a product for sale. If an open date is shown on a product, both the month and day of the month (and year for shelf-stable and frozen products) must be displayed on the product packaging. Immediately adjacent to the date a phrase explaining the meaning of the date such as “sell by” or “use before” must be displayed.
The date does not correspond to the date by which the product must be consumed to ensure food safety; rather, the date is indicated for product quality.
Open dating is typically found on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. After an open date passes, food may not be at the best quality, but products should still be safe if handled properly and stored at proper temperatures. If the product has a “use-by” date, the product should be consumed or frozen by that date.
According to the USDA, even if a use-by date expires during home storage, “a product should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality – if handled properly and kept at 40F or below.” If food develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance due to spoilage bacteria, the food should be discarded for quality reasons.
Foodborne bacteria can grow and cause foodborne illness before or after the date on the package if foods are mishandled. Food, such as meat, left out at room temperature for more than two hours could become unsafe, even if the date on packaging hasn’t expired.
In the case of infant formula, if stored too long, it can separate and clog the nipple. Baby food stored for too long may lose nutrients. Do not buy or use baby formula or baby food after its “use-by” date.
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