Food Product Dating – What Does It Mean?
If a food is kept beyond the date on the package, is it safe to eat? Do we throw it
Hot Springs, Ark. – There has been a lot of talk lately about the dates manufacturers put on foods and what those dates really mean. If a food is kept beyond the date on the package, is it safe to eat? Do we throw it away? The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has guidelines to help answer these questions and keep you safe from possible foodborne illnesses. There are forms of dating – open dating and closed or coded dating. Open dating uses the calendar to date foods and will display the month, day and year. Closed dating uses a code. You might see this type of dating on shelf-stable and non-perishable foods such as cans. These are basically packing numbers that are used by the manufacturers. Within open dating, there are three additional types of dates: sell-by, best if used by, and use-by.
- Sell-by dating tells the retail store how long a food item should be displayed for sale. Consumers should buy this food before the sell-by date expires.
- Best if used by (or before) dating is the date that is recommended for best taste, flavor and quality. It’s not a purchase by or safety date.
- Use-by dating is a date the manufacturer recommends foods be used by for peak quality.
Still confused? Here is further explanation from the USDA.
Safety After the “Open Date”
First and foremost, if foods are mishandled, foodborne illnesses can arise from bacteria that has been allowed to grow in the food. This can stem from food being left out at unsafe temperatures for too long, defrosting at room temperature for more than two hours, cross contamination, and unwashed hands. This can happen even if the date on the food has not expired. Also, if a food has developed an odor, unusual flavor, or appearance, do not use or eat the food.
If a product has a “use-by” date, follow that date. If a product has a “sell-by” date or not date at all, the USDA recommends cooking or freezing the food according to this chart:
FRESH OR UNCOOKED PRODUCTS
The safe storage times after purchase with specific products are: Poultry – 1 or 2 days, Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb – 3 to 5 days, Ground Meat and Ground Poultry – 1 or 2 days, Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) – 1 or 2 days, Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating – 5 to 7 days, Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked – 1 or 2 days, Eggs – 3 to 5 weeks.
PROCESSED PRODUCTS SEALED AT PLANT
Cooked poultry or cooked sausage, unopened after purchase, should be good for 3 to 4 days; also after opening, 3 to 4 days. Sausage, Hard/Dry, Shelf-Stable should remain good for 6 weeks in the pantry if unopened; after opening it should be used within 3 to 4 days. Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices should remain good for 2 weeks in the refrigerator, but only 3 to 4 days after opening.
Vacuum-Packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA Seal, Bacon, Hot Dogs, and Luncheon Meat should remain good, if unopened after purchase, 2 weeks. After opening, the Vacuum-Packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA Seal will need to be used within 3 to 4 days, the Bacon within 7 days, Hot Dogs within 1 week, and Luncheon Meat within 3 to 5 days.
Fully Cooked Ham, unopened after purchase, is good for 7 days; after opening – Slices are good for 3 days, Whole Ham is good for 7 days. A Canned Ham, Labeled “Keep Refrigerated”, unopened, after purchase, will last 9 months, and after opening, 3 to 4 days. Ham, canned, shelf-stable, unopened after purchase, will last 2 years in the pantry, and 3 to 5 days after opening. Canned meat and Poultry, Shelf-Stable, unopened, after purchase will last 2 to 5 years in the pantry, and 3 to 4 days after opening.
Codes on Canned Goods: If a canned good has an open date on it, it is usually a “best if used by” date. This date is for peak quality. Canned goods should be good indefinitely as long as they are stored properly. Keep them at temperature below 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above freezing. Foods that are high in acid such as fruits and tomatoes keep best quality for 12-18 months. Low acid foods such as meats and vegetables keep best quality for 2 to 5 years. If any of the cans start to look rusted, swollen or dented, throw them out and do not eat the food.
For more information on food dating or a copy of the USDA’s food dating fact sheet, contact the Garland County Extension Office at 623-6841 or 922-4703, email Jessica at email@example.com, visit our website at www.uaex.edu.
Are you interested in joining an existing Extension Homemakers Club? EHC is the largest volunteer organization in the state. For information on EHC call 623-6841 or 922-4703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in becoming a Master Gardener and would like more information, you’re welcome to attend their monthly meeting on the 3rd Thursday of each month at 1pm at the Elks Lodge. You may also call the Extension office on 623-6841 or 922-4703 or email email@example.com.
We have several 4-H clubs for our Garland county youth who are 5 to 19 years old. For more information on all the fun 4-H activities there are, call the Extension Office at 623-6841 or 922-4703 or email Linda Bates at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.
By Jessica Vincent
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Jessica Vincent
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
236 Woodbine Hot Springs AR 71901
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your Garland County Extension Office (501-623-6841) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.