Food Safety: What Do Those Packaging Stamps Mean?

Licensees who purchase and prepare foods for residents in licensed facilities are expected to select, store, prepare, and serve food in a safe and healthful manner. In an effort to keep consumers informed of food safety and freshness, several designations have been established in an effort to protect us from expired and potentially harmful food stuffs. The September 2008 Adult and Senior Care Update from the California Community Care Licensing Division contains the following information on food safety that is helpful to everyone.

The following information is compiled from the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and MSNBC.

Expiration Date

This is the most important freshness date used in food packaging. The expiration date is the calendar date on the food item’s packaging. Foods purchased or used after the expiration can contain spoilage bacteria or pathogens. The expiration date indicates the last date the food should be consumed or used. If the food item has not been used by this date it should be discarded. The handling of the product after purchase can affect the expiration date. For example, deli meats left on the kitchen counter for an hour will change the expiration date to at least two days earlier than the date on the packaging. 

“Sell By” or “Pull By” Date

This is a calendar date on the packaging of a food product that the retailer uses to guide the rotation of shelf stock. It allows time for the product to be stored and used at home. Though products will generally have time left after the “sell by” date has passed, it is best to use them before the date expires. “Sell by” and “pull by” dates are quality-driven and not a food safety concern. 

“Best If Used By” Date

The key word in this designation is the word “best.” Foods used by this date should have maximum freshness, flavor and texture. “Best if used by” is not a purchase or safety date. After this date, the product begins to deteriorate in flavor or taste, though it is usually still safe to consume. 

“Use By” Date

This is the last date a consumer is recommended to use a product while it is at peak quality. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a “sell by” or food safety date. 

“Guaranteed Fresh” Date

This date is usually used for perishable baked goods. The key word here is “guaranteed.” If you get the product home and it does not taste fresh or it is stale or moldy, take it back to the store. 

Pack Date

This date is primarily used on canned and boxed goods. It represents the date the item was packed. The date is usually in encrypted code and can be difficult to decipher. The easiest way to find out what the encryption means is to call the manufacturer’s toll-free number, if available.

One Response to “Food Safety: What Do Those Packaging Stamps Mean?”

  1. All foods eventually spoil if not preserved. The basic idea behind the different forms of food preservation is either to slow down the activity of bacteria, or to kill the bacteria altogether. In certain cases, a preservation technique also may destroy enzymes naturally found in a food that cause it to spoil or discolor quickly. The vitamin/mineral provision will allow consumers to use food stamps to purchase dietary supplements that provide vitamins or minerals. But an impact study will also have to be carried out to assess the technical issues, economic impacts and health effects of adding vitamins to the food stamp scheme.
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