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You may want to read this page first for background.There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States.Food products can be divided into two main categories - refrigerated and canned.

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For those products that do not come with a plain "best used by" date it is still possible, albeit with much more difficulty, to determine the rotation period for that specific product.

For a processor to move their product in interstate commerce it must exhibit a packing code.

Canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of processing.

"Best if Used By" is a type of date you might find on a meat, poultry, or egg product label. Does it mean the product will be unsafe to use after that date?

Some refrigerated and canned manufactures use this form of dating.

But the only guideline a grocer has to follow in selling is the FDA's "Federal Food Code", which mainly says the food must be uncontaminated with no signs of spoilage when sold. Shelf life of food product varies greatly according to how they're processed and stored.

Although dating of some foods is required by more than 20 states, there are areas of the country where much of the food supply has some type of open date and other areas where almost no food is dated. The FDA only has guidelines on labeling a product and the required information.

Food expiration date coding is a nightmare for the consumer to interpret. This is different from an expiration date on all food products that the consumer can understand.

In the case of shelf-stable and frozen products, the year must also be displayed.

Additionally, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "Best if Used By." [Top of Page] Are Dates for Food Safety or Quality?

These dates are not "use by" dates, but the time the container was actually filled.

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