top of page
  • Writer's pictureShawndra Holmberg, CPO-CD

Best By Dates — Is It Expired or Not?

My book - 31 Small Steps to Organize for Emergencies (and Disasters)

Your milk has a Sell By date. Your crackers have a Best When Used By date, and your over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever has an Expiration date. Does this mean the store has to pull these products off the shelf? Does it mean you shouldn’t drink it, eat it, or take it? Not necessarily.

Here’s some background on those best-by dates so that you can make the decision. (Taken from 31 Small Steps to Organize for Emergencies (and Disasters) - 2nd Edition - which is available on Amazon in print or Kindle)

Whether it’s food or medicine, storage temperature and humidity will effect the shelf life of the product. Higher temperatures and higher humidity will generally decrease the shelf life of the product. Freezing may also negatively effect some products. Follow the recommended storage instructions.

Food Product Dating

Man looking in pantry cupboard - asking do I need to toss it?

Dates are applied to food for best quality identification not for safety. These dates are not required by Federal regulations, except on infant formula. Infant formula is required to have a Use-By date and should not be used or bought after that date. Though product dating is not required (except for infant formula), all foods must be wholesome and fit for consumption regardless of product dating.

Product dating may also include Sell By or Best When Used By dates and even EXP (expiration), but all these indicate when the product will be at its best quality or flavor. If there is no sign of spoilage, all foods (except infant formula) may be purchased and consumed after the labeled product.

These dates are “open” product dates when the manufacturer has determined the product is at is best quality. For meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy these dates may contain only the month and the date. For shelf-stable and frozen products a year must also be displayed.

Dates on Egg Cartons

Sell By or EXP dates on eggs is not a federal regulation but may be required or prohibited by the state where the eggs are sold. There will also be a “pack date” on the carton if it has the USDA grade shield. Bring your smartphone with you to convert the code to a calendar date, as the pack date is a three-digit code identifying the consecutive day of the year (1 through 365). Example: February 19 is 050.

Dates on Cans

Though the “open” (Sell By, Best When Used By, etc.) is not required on cans and only indicates the date for the best quality, there must be a packing code which includes a “closed” date. This date is used for tracking the product and is the date the product was canned.

Discard cans that are deeply dented, rusted, or swollen. Tomatoes and fruits that are acidic will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months. Less acidic products such as meats and vegetables will keep for two to five years. Store canned foods and other shelf stable products in a cool (below 85°F), dry place.

Expiration Dates for Medication

pill bottles -- keep or toss -- when is it expired

Expiration dates are listed on the medicine packages by the manufacturer. The date

indicates how long the product is expected to remain stable and retain its strength, quality, and purity when it’s been properly stored. Instructions for proper storage will usually indicate the accepted ranges of temperature and humidity.

Expiration dates may not necessarily mean you need to toss it. Here are a few rules of thumb:

  • If your life depends on it — toss expired medication.

  • If it has changed color, consistency or odor — toss it regardless of expiration.

  • Don’t take the aspirin if it smells like vinegar. It’s one medication that should always be tossed when expired, or sooner if it smells like vinegar.

  • Store medication in a cool, dry environment. Your bathroom medicine cabinet is rarely a good place.

For more information on expiration dates and medicine, check out this article from the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide,

For information on getting rid of medication go to Expired Medication – keep or toss and how.



Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page