According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, only infant formula requires expiration dating. On other items, the dates we commonly call "expiration dates" don't actually indicate whether the food is safe to eat or not but rather when the manufacturer thinks the product will be best quality and these items are dated voluntarily by the manufacturer.
There are three ways products are dated:
- “Sell by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Sell by means you should buy the product before the date passes.
- “Best if used by (or before)” is a manufacturer’s recommendation for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- “Use by” is the last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality. The manufacturer of the product has determined the date.
In general, most canned foods have a long shelf life, and when properly stored, can be eaten for several years. Cereal can be good for up to six months past “Best if Used By” date. Dry pasta and rice can be eaten for a year or two after their sell-by dates. Juice has a shelf-life of up to 12 months when stored unopened.
According to the USDA, packaged and fresh meats can be safely eaten for up to a year after being frozen. The Houston Food Bank receives and freezes retail meat before dates have passed. It is then stored and transported to partners while maintaining proper temperature for safe consumption.
Some of our product may look a little different – produce may be in weird shapes, cans may have dents, exterior packaging may be taped, and dates may have passed. We strive to distribute the best quality food we can, and just like a grocery store we sort, inspect, and process all product.
Please use your best judgment as well. If something seems questionable, don’t consume.
Find out more at www.houstonfoodbank.org/foodquality