Although there are some twenty States in the U.S. that have food product dating laws the Federal
government has little regulation concerning food product dating except for infant formulas and some baby
foods. It does, however, require that if a manufacturer puts a calendar date on a food product it must also
put wording to the effect of "use by" or "best before" next to it to explain what the date means. This is
called "open dating" which is to say that it is a plain, easy to read calendar date rather than "closed or
coded dating" that must be deciphered. Another date also commonly seen is the "sell by" date. While not
as useful for food storage, it does have importance for day-to-day fresh food purchases.
Because the Federal government has so few food product dating standards manufacturers use their own to determine acceptable shelf lives. For the most part, they are based upon changes in texture, appearance, taste and cooking qualities. When a food item begins to exhibit signs of aging that would make it unappealing to customers then it is considered to be at the end of its marketable shelf life. Look for statements such as "use by", "best if used by", "best if used before" or similar wording to find this date. For shelf stable and frozen products it must include both the month, day and year. These dates are useful for determining how long a product can be retained in the storage program before it should be rotated out.
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