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Guide to Leftovers and Food Storage

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.

By Sharon Tanenbaum and Ashley Tate
Dairy productsBurcu Avsar
  • “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.
Read More About:More Shopping & Storing

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