Food Expired? Here's What's Still OK to Chow Down On

Expiration Dates and Food

Is Your Food Still Safe to Eat After it “Expires”?


What is Dating? Use of a calendar date as opposed to a code on a food product is a date stamped on a product's package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It is not a safety date. After the date passes, while not of best quality, the product should still be safe if handled properly and kept at 40 °F or below for perishables.

Is Dating Required by Federal Law? Except for infant formula and some baby food, product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations. There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States.

Types of Dates

  • A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • "Closed or coded dates" are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

Safety After Date Expires
Except for "use-by" dates, product dates don't always refer to home storage and use after purchase. "Use-by" dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. But even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality — if handled properly and kept at 40° F or below.

What Do Can Codes Mean? These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They aren't meant for the consumer to interpret as "use-by" dates. There is no book which tells how to translate the codes into dates.

The Food and Drug Administration requires a "use by" date on many products, like baby formulas, vegetables, cereals, and most consumable products, because over time foods lose their nutritional value or become stale, so the "use by" dates are a guideline to let us know when the best time frames are for consumption of our goods before they spoil or become rotten. While the "use by" dates and expiration dates are handy, many goods, such as canned or bottled goods, are actually typically safe for consumption even years after "expiring", so long as the bottle lids have not popped up or the cans have not bowed out, which is a sign of spoiled goods inside.