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Consumers must evaluate the quality of the product prior to its consumption to determine if the product shows signs of spoilage. Open dating is found on most foods including meat, poultry, egg and dairy products."Closed or coded dates" are a series of letters and/or numbers and typically appear on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food. There are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for open dating in the United States.The calendar date provides consumers with information on the estimated period of time for which the product will be of best quality and to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale.

Manufacturers provide dating to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality.

Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.

As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases used on labels to describe quality dates. One source of food waste arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about the meaning of dates displayed on the label.

To reduce consumer confusion and wasted food, FSIS recommends that food manufacturers and retailers that apply product dating use a “Best if Used By” date.

Here is some background information answering these and other questions about product dating. Two types of product dating may be shown on a product label.

"Open Dating" is a calendar date applied to a food product by the manufacturer or retailer.

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Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria.

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