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Are product expiration dates required by law?

When you think of expiration dates on products, you most likely associate them with foods and beverages. You might not think twice about using a battery that has passed its expiration date, but drinking from a carton of month-old milk is another matter. The main reason why you avoid foods whose dates say that they have expired is to avoid them making you sick. Yet does product dating actually describe when foods go bad, and is it required by law

The answer may surprise you. According to information shared by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the only item that is required by federal law to have product dating is infant formula. For all other products (including foods and beverages), such information is voluntary. Manufacturers choose to include product dating, however, to boost consumer confidence in their products. If one does choose to include dating, it must be truthful and in compliance with FSIS regulations. 

The most common types of food product dating are as follows: 

  • "Best if Used By": This date indicates the cutoff to which the product will be at its best quality. 
  • "Use By": This also indicates the date of the product's peak quality. 
  • "Sell By": This date is to help aid in supplier inventory management. It recommends the date to which a seller should display a product. 

Each of the dates described above are not considered to be safety dates. Thus, if food products have been handled and stored properly (and they do not smell or appear to have soiled), they may be safe to consume after those dates. The USDA reports that as much as 30 percent of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted due to confusion over product dating. Thus, good judgment should be used in its purchase and consumption. 

 

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