Understanding The Label


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Woman reading a product lable

2,275 dollars. That's the value of the food being tossed each year by the average American household, in part due to the confusion over "SELL BY," "BEST BY," and "USE BY" dates, according to the editors of Prevention Magazine, April 2017 issue.

These official-looking date stamps are not a requirement of the USDA but are instead left up to the food manufacturer to decide, and although they're meant to be helpful, they can be a little confusing.

To help clear things up and keep you from throwing out food that might be perfectly safe to consume, here's a look at what these labels mean.

  • SELL BY: This is a guide for retailers, expressing when the product should be sold or removed from the store shelf; still plenty of time to consume.
  • BEST BY: This is the recommended date by which the product should be consumed.
  • USE BY: This is the last date the food should be eaten by the consumer. After which the quality will deteriorate, and safety might become an issue.