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One of the biggest challenges in feeding an ever-increasing world population is how to reduce waste. Having accurate information about what dates on products mean may help avoid waste.

Here is information from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service on what those dates on packaging mean:

Sell-by date — This is a date for the supermarket’s benefit to signal when items need to be removed from stock.

Once you get the product home, however, the following dates are those that will concern you, the consumer.

Codes on canned food items — These are not necessarily calendar codes and are meant for the use of the manufacturer to track batches of products.  Each manufacturer is entitled to use its own code system, so there is no website or book to decipher codes on canned items. Consumers would have to contact a manufacturer directly.

Best by/best before date — This is the consumption date, for the consumer’s benefit, that is recommended for best flavor or quality. This is determined by the manufacturer or supplier, and is not a purchase or safety date.

Use-by date —  This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product and is based on testing.

Note that here is no regulation that requires a manufacturer to put best-by or use-by date on items, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The bottom line

None of these dates automatically means a product will be “bad” or dangerous to your health if purchased or consumed after the dates that appear on the product.

Talk to Leah

Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at Lmcgrath@ingles-markets.com, 800-334-4936 or at www.ingles-markets.com/ask_leah.

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