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Our No-Nonsense Guide to Sell-By, Use-By, and Best-By Dates

What’s the deal?

Sell-by dates are the last day a traditional grocer can sell an item. Best-by dates indicate an item’s optimal freshness, according to its manufacturer. And a use-by date is the last day recommended for a product to be eaten at peak quality. 

But none of the above have any bearing on whether a food item is safe to eat—or even whether it’ll taste good! 

Why does it matter? 

The USDA estimates that 30% of the food supply is lost or wasted at the consumer level. Traditional grocers are forced to toss food items that are past their sell-by or best-by dates, and this behavior also translates to folks at home who encounter these arbitrary dates. 

So what’s okay to eat?

With the exception of formula, the USDA says it’s safe to eat foods that are past their sell-by, best-by, and use-by dates, as long as they’ve been stored properly. Instead, try using your senses: off-putting odors, colors, and textures are all red flags, regardless of the packaging date. Bloated or bulging packaging can also be a sign to toss the item. For more info, head to

Source: USDA

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Comments (10)

Hi, Kathy! Thank you for your question and interest. As part of our commitment to eradicate food deserts by 2025, we’re dedicated to making high-quality foods accessible and more affordable to all and we’re actively looking into adding SNAP/EBT as a payment method through a pilot program. Please sign up for our email newsletter on our website if you haven’t already so that you will be notified when it launches. Thank you!

Glad to see this in print outside the USDA site. Having a mother with a Masters in Home Economics and one in Public Health, I have known this for years but can’t convince many friends/family of the common sense nature of this. If it looks and smells perfectly fine why throw it away? Always has made sense to me!

Thank you for sharing! We have a couple family members we’re still trying to convince too. 😆🙌

That’s awesome, Ray! Proper storage and listening to your gut are key to preventing unnecessary waste. 😊

I worked at a grocery store for years, I know about the dates. I tried to explain them to people and they thought I was crazy.

You were ahead of your time, Theresa! We’re sure some people are remembering your teachings now. 👏

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