Most grocery items are marked by a date that says “Sell By”, “Use By”, and “Best By”. But what if the can you’re holding is past that date?

Grocery Deals does not sell food that is unsafe — even though the item in your hand may be marked after the “Best By” date. So what do these dates mean?

According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, this is what the date labels mean:

  • Sell-by date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
  • Best if used by (or before) date is recommended for best flavor or quality.
  • Use-by date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.
  • Pull date or expiration date means the recommended date the food should be pulled from sale allowing the consumer time for normal home consumption or the date the food should no longer be offered for sale or sold as fresh.
  • Packing date means the date specifying the time a perishable food was packaged in its final form for sale to the consumer.

Food quality versus food safety

 The quality of a food typically refers to the peak flavor, texture, or color of the food, but it is generally not a safety issue.
  • Non-perishable (shelf-stable) foods are generally safe to be eaten past the expiration or pull date.
  • Perishable foods (could spoil without temperature control) cannot be sold past the expiration of the pull dateunless they are segregated and clearly identified as having an expired open pull date.  Also, the food must still be fit for human consumption.

A shelf-stable product can be safely used after the “sell-by” date. Products displaying a “use-by” date, although still safe, may not be of acceptable quality after the “use-by” date.

Is it safe to use food from dented cans?

If a can containing food has a small dent, but is otherwise in good shape, the food should be safe to eat. Discard deeply dented cans. A deep dent is one that you can lay your finger into. Deep dents often have sharp points. A sharp dent on either the top or side seam can damage the seam and allow bacteria to enter the can. Discard any can with a deep dent on any seam.

Too often, perfectly good food is wasted due to misunderstanding of what the product date means. Learn more about Food Waste at .

Is Expired Food Safe to Eat? Read the article at Consumer Reports.