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Here is information from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on what dates on packaging mean:
• SELL BY DATE - This is a date for the SUPERMARKET's benefit to tell us when items need to be removed from stock.
Once you get the product home these are the dates that will concern you, the consumer:
• CODES on Canned items - These are NOT necessarily calendar codes and are meant for the use of the MANUFACTURER to track batches of products. Each manufacturer is entitled to use their own code system so there is not website or book to decipher codes on canned items and consumers would have to contact the manufacturer.
• BEST BY/BEST BEFORE DATE - This is the date (for the CONSUMER's benefit )that is recommended for best flavor or quality. Determined by the MANUFACTURER/SUPPLIER … It is not a purchase or safety date.
• USE-BY DATE - The last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the MANUFACTUER of the product and is based on testing.
(Note: There is NO regulation that requires a manufacturer to put Best Buy or Use-By dating on items except for baby formula via Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
What's the bottom line? None of these dates automatically means the product will be "bad" or dangerous to your health if purchased or consumed after the dates that appear on the product. For more information on how long items keep once you bring them home from Ingles see USDA - FSIS website for Food Product Dating:
Leah McGrath, RDN, LDN
Ingles Markets Corporate Dietitian