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Expiration Dates: Rules or Guidelines?

Expiration Dates: Rules or Guidelines?

Expiration dates are often not as simple as they could be. Sell by, use by, best if used by, better if used by, with all these different terms, many people get confused and err on the side of caution, throwing out food that is often still good. Two food industry groups are hoping to tackle this issue by getting manufacturers to only use two terms: “use by”, and “best if used by”.

What’s the difference between “use by” and “best if used by”?

“Use by” will be listed on items that are perishable, and pose a safety concern if eaten past their “use by” date. You’ll see “use by” labels on foods such as meat, fish, and cheese. These are foods where you will absolutely want to abide by the date listed. “Best if used by” will be for non-perishable items. It will denote when the item may taste lose flavor or become stale, but won’t be unsafe to eat. Abiding by these dates isn’t totally necessary, it’s a judgement call.

How clearing up confusion about expiration dates can save food waste

Studies show that over 90% of Americans may throw out food too early because they misinterpret food labels. Food waste is a big problem in America. 72 billion pounds of food are wasted each year.  By clearing up confusion surrounding food expiration labels, the food industry could stand to reduce annual food waste by up to 8%.

So now you know that when you see “best if used by”, you don’t have to go straight to the garbage. When it comes to foods that aren’t risky to eat past their prime, we recommend going by the food’s smell and taste to determine whether you should use it. But for foods that have a hard “use by” expiration date, it’s better to be safe than sorry (and sick).  

Want to learn more about food waste and how you can prevent it? Visit