A quick guide to food product dating

By Rosemena Dalmace, Summer Community Nutrition Educator

When grocery shopping, have you ever noticed the dates that are stamped on the package of foods you purchase? Beside the date, it usually says, “sell by,” “best if used by,” or “use by or before.” Most people believe that these dates are expiration dates and the food is no longer good to eat after the date has passed. This is not the case!

Perishable foods like meats, poultry and fish usually have sell by dates. The sell by date tells the store up to what date a food item can remain on the shelf to be sold. Also, perishable foods can last longer if they are kept in the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees F, or frozen at or below 0 degrees F.

Non-perishable foods like canned or boxed foods usually have “use by” or “best if used by dates.” These dates describe that the food is at its best quality or flavor up until the date printed on the package.

Rule of thumb for purchasing and storing foods is as follows:

  • If the package says, “sell by” or if it has no date, then the product can be stored for a few days past the stamped date. When frozen the food can last weeks beyond its date and is safe. However when refrigerated, some foods are safe between 1 and 7 days.
  • If the package says, “use by” or “best if used by” then you should to follow that date.

Here at the Food Bank we store a large variety of foods in our warehouse. Some foods come in past their dates, however, we follow shelf-stable food safety guidelines.

Here are some examples of foods we store and for how long

Grains:

  • Rice (white, brown), pasta/noodles, macaroni and cheese, and popcorn = 2 years
  • Cornmeal/corn meal baking mixes, polenta = 6 – 12 months
  • Crackers = 8 months
  • Stuffing = 2 months

Vegetables:

  • Canned potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beets, peas and pumpkin = 2 – 5 years
  • Tomatoes, pickles, sauerkraut, or foods treated with vinegar based sauces = 12 – 18 months
  • Vegetable juice: 12 – 18 months
  • Dehydrated, Dried Vegetables = 1 year

Fruits:

  • Canned fruit (in juice or light syrup) = 12 – 18 months
  • Dried fruits = 6 months
  • 100% Fruit Juice = 12 – 18 months

Dairy:

  • Dry milk packets = 6 months
  • Canned evaporated or condensed = 9 months
  • Parmesan Cheese = 10 months

Protein:

  • Canned beans, peas, lentils = 2 – 5 years
  • Dry beans, peas, lentils 12 months
  • Peanut butter = 6 – 9 months
  • Nuts (canned, shelled) = 4 months
  • Canned meat and poultry = 2 – 5 years
  • Seafood in retort pouches (tuna, salmon0 = 8 months
  • Meat substitutes = 4 months
  • Dried beef = 12 months

The Food Bank takes care in making sure that the foods given to the community are healthy and at its best quality.

Be sure to use the food safety guidelines when preparing and storing cooked and uncooked foods. Dates on products are important especially for perishable items. Handling food is also very important. Always begin with clean hands and utensils when preparing and storing cooked and uncooked foods.

Here’s a handy infographic to help determine shelf life!

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