The Definition of “Sell By Date”

The Food Date Vocabulary Problem

Shelf Life of Eggs

Shelf Life Terms

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 what that date really means. Here at Eat By Date, we are doing our best to make sure that you, the fresh food consumer, is fully informed about true shelf life of the most popular food items. As we have learned, most food is still edible after the expiration date. When reviewing the printed date on the item in question, you may find it interesting to learn that:
  • 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 not the items true Shelf Life.
  • Dating is not federally required, except for infant formula and baby food.
  • 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.
Below is a standard definition for “Sell By Date,” but please see the individual EatByDate pages for specific items to know how long each may be used after the Sell By Date has passed (the home shelf life of your product).

So, what is the Sell By Date of a food item?

The “Sell By Date” on a product is the items expiration date, the end of its shelf life at the store. This is the last date stores are supposed to display the product for sale, after the Sell By Date the stores should remove the product, the Shelf Life has expired. Although the food product may be used and enjoyed past this date, it is not recommended to purchase a product if the Sell By date has past.
To find out how long food and drink products are good for beyond their sell by date, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or search below! or search below!

Search the Shelf Life Guide!