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Maggie Jover: What dates mean on the food label

How many of us have cleaned a cupboard, refrigerator or freezer and tried to remember when we purchased a food buried in the back?

On closer inspection of the food’s product dating information, you may have wondered, “What exactly is a ‘use by’ date?” Here are some tips to help you decide whether or not to eat the food. In some cases, the food may be safe, but the quality is no longer what we want.

Know what the dates mean on food labels:

- “Pull” date or “sell by” date tells the store how long to display the food for sale. This date allows for more storage and use time at home. Even if the food is sold on the “sell by” date, it can still be eaten later.

- “Freshness” date tells the consumer how long the food will be at its highest quality of flavor. The label might read “Best if used by September 1, 2013.” However, the food may still be used after this date but may not meet the manufacturer’s standard for freshness.

-“Pack” date is the date the food was packaged or processed. With this date, the consumer can decide if the package is fresher than other products. For example, do not buy ground beef that was packed three days ago if there is a package available that was packed today.

- “Expiration” date is the last date the product should be eaten. It might read “Do not use after August 12, 2013.” Except for eggs, after the expiration date, food is no longer safe to eat and should be discarded. Buy eggs by the expiration date and use them within 30 days of the expiration date.

To avoid problems with outdated foods:

- Read labels carefully when purchasing food for usage dates.

- Keep a permanent marker in the kitchen and put the purchase date on the food item.

- Practice “first in, first out” and use the food with the oldest date first.

- If you cannot use food by the perishable date, freeze it.

For more information on reading food labels, call the Denton County Extension Office at 940-349-2882.

MAGGIE JOVER is the family and consumer sciences county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2882.