The Definition of Best Before Date

When you purchase food items at your local grocery store, you may notice a printed sell by date, use by date or best before date on the packaging or item itself and wonder just what that date really means. Here at Eat By Date, we are doing our best to make sure that you, the conscious consumer, are fully informed about the true “shelf life” of the most popular food items. As we have learned, most food is still edible after these printed expiration dates have passed.

When reviewing the best-by date, or any printed date on a food item in question, you may find it interesting to learn the following facts associated with the shelf life of foods.

Food Best By Laws

Shelf Life of Eggs

  • Food Can Be Sold After a Date Expires – Stores are not legally required to remove food from the shelf once the expiration date has passed.  The expiration dates are strictly “advisory” in nature and are left entirely to the discretion of the manufacturer, thus not truly indicative of an items true Shelf Life.[1]


  • Food Dates Are Not Required By Law – With the exception of infant formula and baby food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require food companies to place dates on their food products. The only requirement is that the food is wholesome and fit for consumption.


  • Laws Vary By State – States have varying food dating laws. For example, many states require that milk and other perishables be sold before the expiration date, while others do not.


  • Best Before Date Definition

    Below is a standard definition for “Best Before Date,” but please see the individual pages of EatByDate for specific food items to know how long each product may be used after its Best Before (or Best By) Date.

    So, what is the “Best Before Date” of a food item?

    The “Best Before Date” is, according to the manufacturer, the last date by which a products flavor and/or quality is best. A best-by date denotes the optimal period of time during which the manufacturer feels that their product will retain its original quality. As noted above, the product may still be enjoyed after the “best before date”.

    Additionally, the manufacturer may call this the “Best if Used By” date, the “Best By” date or some similar wording. These best dates indicates that the quality of their food might begin to diminish after that date, but it is still good to eat and the shelf life is still active for a period beyond that of a pre-determined best-by date.

    To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other of Eat By Date or search below.

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