Food Safety and Product Dates

Food safety is an important practice for good health and nutrition. Farmers and food companies carefully follow federal and state regulations for food safety, and provide labeling to guide consumer use and preparation at home.  Storing non-perishable foods in dry places and for meats and other perishable items, maintaining refrigerator temperature below 40 °F will preserve the safe use and best quality of food prior to preparation.  

Label-use dates also provide advice:

  • "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • "Use-By" date is the last date recommended by the manufacturer for the use of the product while at peak quality.  Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly.  If product has a "use-by" date, follow that date. If product has a "sell-by" date or no date, cook or freeze the product within one to two days of the purchase of raw poultry - or for cooked poultry, refrigerate within three to four days after purchase or after opening the can or package. 
  • "Closed or coded dates" are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer in tracking their product. There is no book or website that tells how to translate the codes into dates.

These food safety tips will protect you and your family from food-borne illnesses - advising the proper handling of food in the home. 

Food Safety Tips:

  • Wash hands with soap before handling raw poultry (soap and water vigorously for about 20 seconds to kill harmful germs)
  • Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen:
    - use separate cutting boards for foods and for vegetables
    - carefully clean all cutting boards, countertops and utensils with soap and hot water water preparing raw meats
  • Keep raw poultry separate from ready-to-eat foods
  • Cook turkey and all meats immediately after thawing or chill cooked turkey rapidly, cover and refridgerate promptly
  • When cooking turkey burgers, use an instant-read food thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty - including the thickest part. The temperature of 165 degrees F kills food borne-germs.
  • Never place cooked burgers or ground poultry on an unwashed plate that was used for raw patties. Wash food thermometers in-between tests of patties that require more cooking
  • Leftover foods or ready-to-eaty foods (hot dogs and sausages) should be cooked until steaming hot
  • Join the email list for weekly food safety education tips from the Partnership for Food Safety Education

USDA Food Product Date Guidelines 

Except for infant formula, product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations. However, if a calendar date is used, it must express both the month and day of the month (and the year, in the case of shelf-stable and frozen products). If a calendar date is shown, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "sell-by" or "use before."  USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service has details.

USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone

This 40-ft traveling mobile exhibit showcases the science of food safety associated with four safe food handling practices: clean, separate, cook, and chill, and demonstrates how taking these important steps to food preparation can protect you from food poisoning.  Educators may request a visit by the USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone.

USDA Food Safety Education Camp

This supplemental food safety teaching module for elementary level science teachers features interactive learning stations where students experience the science behind the four key food safety lessons of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. The Camp was designed to raise student awareness about the risks of food poisoning and motivate them to take steps to protect themselves, their families, and friends.  Download a guide to hosting your own Food Safety Education Camp.

Science & Our Food Supply

FDA and the National Science Teachers Association developed this supplementary curriculum for middle and high school classrooms. 

Partnership for Food Safety Education - Fight Bac!

Use Fight BAC! curriculum kits to fight bacteria and teach safe kitchen practices. Materials are available for K-12 age groups. Learn more.