Does Federal Law Require Dating? Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations. For meat, poultry, and egg products under the jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Inspection Service FSIS , dates may be voluntarily applied provided they are labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and in compliance with FSIS regulations 1.
To comply, a calendar date must express both the month and day of the month. In the case of shelf-stable and frozen products, the year must also be displayed.
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Additionally, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "Best if Used By. Are Dates for Food Safety or Quality? Manufacturers provide dating to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality. How do Manufacturers Determine Quality Dates? Factors including the length of time and the temperature at which a food is held during distribution and offered for sale, the characteristics of the food, and the type of packaging will affect how long a product will be of optimum quality.
Manufacturers and retailers will consider these factors when determining the date for which the product will be of best quality.
For example, sausage formulated with certain ingredients used to preserve the quality of the product or fresh beef packaged in a modified atmosphere packaging system that helps ensure that the product will stay fresh for as long as possible. These products will typically maintain product quality for a longer period of time because of how the products are formulated or packaged.
The quality of perishable products may deteriorate after the date passes, however, such products should still be safe if handled properly.
How do I read the code date?
Consumers must evaluate the quality of the product prior to its consumption to determine if the product shows signs of spoilage. What Types of Food are Dated? Open dating is found on most foods including meat, poultry, egg and dairy products. What Date-Labeling Phrases are Used?
There are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for open dating in the United States. As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases used on labels to describe quality dates. USDA estimates food loss and waste at 30 percent of the food supply lost or wasted at the retail and consumer levels 2.
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One source of food waste arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about the meaning of dates displayed on the label. To reduce consumer confusion and wasted food, FSIS recommends that food manufacturers and retailers that apply product dating use a "Best if Used By" date.
Research shows that this phrase conveys to consumers that the product will be of best quality if used by the calendar date shown.
Decoding Food Product Dates
Foods not exhibiting signs of spoilage should be wholesome and may be sold, purchased, donated and consumed beyond the labeled "Best if Used By" date. Safety After Date Passes With an exception of infant formula described below , if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident Chill Refrigerate Promptly. Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria.
If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten.
How do I read the code date?
Microorganisms such as molds, yeasts, and bacteria can multiply and cause food to spoil. Viruses are not capable of growing in food and do not cause spoilage. There are two types of bacteria that can be found on food: Best if used by or before date is recommended for best flavor or quality. Use-by date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. Packing date means the date specifying the time a perishable food was packaged in its final form for sale to the consumer.
Closed or coded dating. The federal government only requires expiration dates on baby foods and infant formula. Other dating on food products is voluntary. Open dating uses calendar dates and closed, or coded, dating is a process used by manufacturers to help with managing inventory. Closed coding is used on products with longer shelf lives, such as canned and boxed foods.
The USDA notes that while closed codes could refer to manufacturing date, the codes are not intended for consumer use and no single translation source exists. Locate the code on the product packaging. Look for codes on boxed foods in the same places.