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Differences among dates: Dietitian breaks down what all those food date labels mean

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MILWAUKEE -- Best by, sell by, used by. Registered dietitian Lisa Grudzielanek with Your Tasty Life joins Real Milwaukee to explain what they all mean.

There are typically three types of dates you`ll see on food products.

  • A "Best if Used By/Before" indicates when a product will be of 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. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
  • A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. It is not a safety date. The "sell-by" date is geared toward the supermarket versus the home kitchen. This distinction is used by manufacturers to tell grocers when to remove their product from the shelves. For example, milk often has a sell-by date, but the milk will usually still be good for at least a week beyond that date if properly refrigerated.
  • Dating is not required by US federal law, with the exception of infant formula and baby foods, which must be withdrawn from the market by their expiration date.
  • As a food product passes its sell by, best by or use by date, it may get stale, and some products, like milk, may go sour. Most spoiled foods, though unpalatable, aren`t particularly hazardous.
  • 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.
  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) launched an initiative in 2017 to narrow food label date information to— 'Best If Used By' and 'Use By'  and eliminate confusing choices like "Sell By," hoping the clarification would help Americans waste less food and save more money.
  • GMA research found that 44% of Americans rely on the label date to determine whether to throw food away.
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