A Guide to Food Expiration Terms

Use this resource to decode the sell-by and use-by dates stamped on the staples in your fridge.

  • Sharon Tanenbaum and Ashley Tate
  • “Use by” date: When an item will pass its peak in quality, according to the manufacturer. If stored properly, most foods can be consumed a day after this date―some even longer.
  • Date only: For example, “SEPT 12.” Usually means the same as the “use by” date.
  • “Sell by” date: Manufacturers recommend that stores move a product by this day. Don’t buy food with a date that has come and gone. If you already have such a product, eat it within one to two days (some foods will last longer).
  • Coded dates: The alphanumeric hodgepodge on a container is a code the manufacturer uses for tracking. But if you look closely, some conceal a date: A common system assigns a letter to the month (A = January) and a number to the year (8 = 2008) that the item was packaged. The rest of the sequence signals the location of the packing facility, which is usually useful to know only if the product is recalled.