We’ve all seen the dates on certain perishable items at the grocery stores. If they’re just around the corner, we get scared. “Too soon!” we think. “I can’t buy this!” But what we sometimes don’t realize, or remember, is that the date may not be a good indication of when the food will be inedible, but sometimes a suggestion from the manufacturer about when the item will no longer be at its absolute peak flavor or freshness. In fact, outside of infant formula, date stamping is not a requirement.

Here’s a review of what they mean.

USE BY: This is the last date the manufacturer suggests food be consumed by. The FDA suggests consuming food before its “use by” date.

SELL BY: This is generally seen on fresher food and it’s used to let the stores know how long to display the product. You definitely want to buy the product before this date and generally consume it as close to it as possible. Another option is to freeze it before it risks spoiling.

BEST IF USED BY: Surprisingly, this is not an indicator of safety. It’s the date the manufacturer recommends having the food for the best quality and flavor experience. Many foods are fine far behind the dates listed as ‘best.’

How literally do you take best before dates? Let us know in the comments.

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