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FAQs

FAQs about Food Recovery and Dating

Q: What is Product Dating?

A: There are two main types of product dating, “open dating” and “closed dating”.

Open dating is the dating used on products that specify “Best if used by”. Open dating is used for recommendations of maximum freshness and peak nutritional value – it is not used as a safety date. These codes typically appear on meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy products.

Closed or coded dating isn’t standardized across manufacturers. Some codes listed on products are the product codes, which are indecipherable to anyone outside a manufacturer. These codes typically appear on canned or boxed goods.

(US Dept. of Agriculture)


Q: Is Dating required by Federal Law?

A: Except for infant formula and some baby food, product dating is NOT required by Federal regulations.

(US Dept. of Agriculture)


Q: Are Retailers Allowed to Sell Products Beyond the Date on the Package?

A: Yes. As long as a product is wholesome, a retailer may legally sell grocery items including fresh or processed meat and poultry products beyond the date on the package.

(Exceptions to this would include baby food and fluid milk.)

(Adapted from Food Marketing Institute information)


A: Varies depending on the type of product. Many processed and packaged foods are shelf stable, which means that they do not require refrigeration until opened. Items that fit into this category are often referred to as “non-perishable” for these reasons. Their shelf life is evaluated in terms of the quality of the product. Food quality deals with taste, texture, color and nutritional value. Since the storage time for shelf stable foods is a quality issue and not a food safety concern, the FDA does not require an expiration date.

(Adapted from National Food Processors Association & FDA Food Safety)

Q: What is a product’s shelf life?


A: Canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of processing. Thanks to the high-heat process canned food goes through, it retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years. This process renders the canned goods commercially sterile. The goods may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color or texture, but food safety is not an issue in products kept on the shelf in moderate temperatures (75 degrees Fahrenheit and below). The acid content of the food and the lining of the can are important factors in a product’s quality and appearance after long periods of storage.

(Adapted from mealtime.org., Canned Food Alliance, and The National Food Processors Association)

Q: How Long Does Canned Food Remain Edible and Retain Its Nutritional Content?


A: Cans exhibit a packing code to enable tracking of the product in interstate commerce. This enables manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as to locate their products in the event of a recall. These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They aren’t meant for the consumer to interpret as “use-by” dates. There is no book which tells how to translate the codes into dates.

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Q: What do can codes mean?


A: Once a perishable product is frozen at proper temperatures, it does not matter if the date expires – food kept frozen continuously is safe indefinitely. Packaging is important to the quality and appearance of frozen foods. Products exposed to air can develop “freezer burn” which does not affect the safety of the product, but can impact taste and quality.

(Adapted information from American Frozen Food Institute)

Q: What about frozen foods?


For more information on food safety: