“Sell-By”, “Best if Used By”, “Used By” – OH MY! Do these terms ever get you confused? The dietitians at Martin Bros. often receive requests for clarification of these dates and labeling requirements. Here is what you need to know:
The date stamped on a product’s package by the manufacturer is to help the store decide how long to display the product for sale and limit the time of sale during the product’s best quality. These dates are not safety dates. Product dating by the manufacturer is not specifically required by Federal regulations. We do find dates like these on perishable items such as meat, eggs, dairy, poultry, etc.
Types of Dates1
How Does This Differ From Date Marking?
The terms mentioned above are different from the date marking requirement mentioned in the 2013 FDA Model Food Code. The food code requires ready-to-eat, time and temperature controlled food for safety (TCS, formerly titled Potentially Hazardous Food) that are opened or made in a facility be date marked if they are going to be held for more than 24 hours. Then the food can be kept for seven days.
Refrigeration slows the growth of pathogens (disease causing micro-organisms), but it does not stop it. Since the growth continues even under refrigeration, you need to discard items after seven days after opening or the product’s use by date (whichever comes sooner).
Many items are tossed into the freezer to keep for a later date. This method stops the date marking clock, but doesn’t reset it. Let’s say the use by date on some ground beef is four days away, so you freeze it until you need to use it. Once thawed, you still only have four days left to use the product. This needs to be recorded or may come into question when a surveyor sees an expired date.
Each facility may have their own method of date marking, but it needs to be written down in the form of a policy. The method needs to be easy to understand for the staff and communicated correctly to a surveyor when questioned. The most common method counts the day a food is prepared or opened as day one and discarded six days later. For example, food prepared on January 1 must be discarded on January 7).
Blog Provided by: Gretchen L. Robinson, RDN, LD, Certified ServSafe Instructor