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Here's a helpful article by Tracy Robinson from Chow Line a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
Does the sell-by date mean the food is no longer safe to eat? What about the use-by or best-by date? For most foods, the date label is a manufacturer’s best guess as to how long the product will be at its peak quality. Take heart. You’re not alone in your confusion. Most people aren’t sure what those date labels on food actually mean. In fact, more than a third of consumers throw away food once the date passes because they mistakenly think the date is an indicator of food safety, according to a recent study by the Harvard University Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. But for most foods, the date label is a manufacturer’s best guess as to how long the product will be at its peak quality. With only a few exceptions, the majority of food products remain wholesome and safe to eat long past their expiration dates, the study authors said. Infant formula is the only food product that must carry product dating under current federal law. Confusion regarding food label dates also leads to significant food waste, with the average American household spending more than $2,000 annually on wasted food, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the: •“Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or a safety date. •“Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date. •“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 when used on infant formula.