What Do Expiration Dates Really Mean?

food storage preparedness Jun 21, 2023
expiration dates canned food

Understanding expiration dates is essential to our food storage and prepper pantries! Did you know that 90% of Americans do not understand expiration dates? That is a lot of wasted food!

Expiration dates are guidelines set by the manufacturers about the quality of the food, not the safety. There are no federal laws regarding expiration dates, except for infant formula. These dates are purely about taste, texture, color, etc., and not about the safety of the food.

So what do the dates on our foods actually mean?

Best By Date
This is about taste. It is the date that the manufacturer will guarantee the product will be at its best flavor and quality. You will often see best by on canned goods and dry goods.

Use By or Best if Used By
This is the last date that the producer will guarantee a quality product. Use by is typically seen on meat, poultry, egg products, and pre-packaged cooked foods or salads.


Sell By Date
This date tells the store when to remove an item from the shelves. It ensures the consumer receives an item at its optimal quality. Sell-by is often seen on dairy, eggs, meat, salads, etc.


Freeze By
Freeze-by is also not a purchase or safety date. This indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain the best quality. Freeze-by is often seen on meat, fish, and poultry.

Expires On or Do Not Use After
This is used on products that may not function the same after the expiration date. This is often seen on products such as vitamins, pectin, infant formula, and medications.


Understanding expiration dates

  • saves money in our grocery budget
  • helps build food storage faster
  • wastes less food


Dry goods that are unopened and stored correctly will store after the packaged expiration date far longer if you take steps to protect against the factors that impact food storage.

Canned goods (that are low in acid) will store for several years past their expiration dates. As time goes on, texture may be impacted, so that will be a personal preference. At what point will your family not eat an item any longer? I suggest rotating canned goods First In First Out, FIFO, so there is no waste and your food storage is constantly being used.

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