We encourage consumers to use ‘Best By’ dates on food and beverage packaging as a guide to decision-making, knowing that these dates are applied to food packages as indicators of quality, not safety. Most food products are not even required to carry a ‘best by’ or ‘best if used by’ date. The exception to this is infant formula.
Federal regulations require a “Use-By” date on any product label of infant formula that is produced under FDA inspection. Consumption by this date ensures the formula contains no less than the quantity of each nutrient as described on the label. The “Use-By” date is determined by the manufacturer based on: laboratory testing, expected storage conditions, and label directions for preparing the formula.
“Use By” dating applies to liquid infant formula (concentrate or ready-to-use) or powder. Because it’s so important that infants receive optimal nutrition, infant formula that has exceeded the “Use By” date should not be given to infants.
For other packaged food products, common terms that indicate optimum quality are:
- A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
- A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula (see above).
For anyone working with food banks and food pantries, there is a handy Reduce Food Waste fact sheet to guide these organizations in distributing food and beverage items to guests while still providing acceptable quality and helping to ensure safety. This fact sheet replaces the Keep or Toss fact sheet of several years ago. Help keep our youngest children food-safe!