There are no federal guidelines for dating food products; 20 states have laws on the books about food dating, but they are inconsistent.
“Dates on manufactured food products usually indicate how long the food can be kept on store shelves for best quality, but it is unrelated to its safety,” Ganthavorn said.
Canned goods past the expiration date are still safe to eat if the can is not dented, rusted or swollen. On the other hand, perishable foods that have not reached the expiration date may not be safe to eat if they were not refrigerated properly.
Improved understanding of the dates on food products can help consumers avoid waste. “Sell by” is simply a guide for grocery stores. “Best if used by” indicates when the product is in optimum condition. “Use by” is a recommendation to consumers to eat the food with top quality and flavor. After these dates, Ganthavorn said, the product may not be at its very best, but it is typically still safe to eat if it has been stored and prepared appropriately. The key is to follow safe food handling and storage guidelines.
The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.