Uniform dating codes

"Sell by Feb 14" is a type of information you might find on a meat or poultry product. Does it mean the product will be unsafe to use after that date?

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If a food has developed such characteristics, you should not use it for quality reasons.

If foods are mishandled, however, foodborne bacteria can grow and, if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness — before or after the date on the package.

For example, if hot dogs are taken to a picnic and left out several hours, they will not be safe if used thereafter, even if the date hasn't expired.

"Use-by" dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates.

Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly.

See the accompanying refrigerator charts for storage times of dated products. If product has a "sell-by" date or no date, cook or freeze the product according to the times on the chart below.Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria.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." There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States.Although dating of some foods is required by more than 20 states, there are areas of the country where much of the food supply has some type of open date and other areas where almost no food is dated. Open dating is found primarily on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products."Closed" or "coded" dating might appear on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food.[Top of Page] Types of Dates [Top of Page] Safety After Date Expires Except for "use-by" dates, product dates don't always pertain to home storage and use after purchase.

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