Food For Thought

what does the ‘Use by’ date mean

It’s easy to be confused by some of the dates you may see printed on a package of food. You might see a “Sell By” date or a “Use By” date, and sometimes more than one date. How are you supposed to tell what each date really means? Unfortunately, there is no sole standard for how a food package should be dated in the United States. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) both agree on the meanings of a few key definitions:

  • 1: The “Use By” date is set by the food manufacturer, and it indicates the last day of the time period that the food is considered to be at its best quality. This is the process that Bar-S uses for all of our products.
  • 2: “Best If Used By” or “Best If Used Before” dates tell the consumer that the food product is going to be at its maximum level of quality up to a specific date. Again, these dates do not have any bearing on the safety of the food, only the quality in terms of flavor and how enjoyable it is.
  • 3: The “Sell By” date is for the store’s use; it indicates how long the store should keep the food on display for sale. It is recommended to purchase products before the “Sell By” date, but like the previous two definitions, it does not mean that a product is no longer safe to eat after that date. This is usually used with deli meats from the meat department in stores.


The laws on how food should be dated vary from state to state. On a federal level, the Food and Drug Administration only requires that food products be “wholesome” and appropriate to consume as food. The FDA does not require “Use By” dates on packages at all. The only exception to the rule is baby formula, which must have an expiration date on the package.

The states must individually determine their food-dating requirements. Many states allow stores to sell food to consumers after the “Use By” date on the package has passed. Stores can decide whether or not to leave that food on display for customers. For example, some stores must remove dairy products that are past their “Use By” dates from the shelves, but other stores are not required to do this. Another practice you may notice in stores is that many products that have almost reached or have passed their “Use By” dates are marked down in price.

Rest assured that in accordance with USDA and OSHA standards, Bar-S Foods places a “Use By” date on its products, and this date recommends the product be used or frozen by then to ensure quality and consistency. Bar-S Foods guarantees the quality of all the products we make.