Food Expiration Dates


Expiration Dates and Food Safety

There are many terms that are used on food items to indicate an expiration date.

From a regulatory standpoint, Expiration Date, Pull Date, Best-By Date, Best Before Date, Use-By Date and Sell-By Date are synonymous. It is important to realize that these dates are manufacturer guidelines for quality and freshness, not an indicator for food safety.

There are no regulations that require a specific number of days on a food product, how the date shall be documented, or the phrase used on the package. If the product has been stored properly and appears to be visually wholesome and fit for consumption, it can be consumed after the expiration date with little to no food safety threat.

But remember the adage, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Consumers are encouraged to check expiration dates before making a purchase and to notify a store manager if an expired product is found on store shelves.

What do these terms have in common?
Expiration Date • Pull Date • Best By Date • Best Before Date • Use By Date • Sell By Date

  • The date you see on a food product really has nothing to do with food safety.
  • The food manufacturer offers a date to indicate freshness and quality.
  • If a food product has been stored properly, looks good, and smells good, it can be eaten after the indicated date with little-to-no danger.

Still aren’t sure? It’s okay, we get it. When in Doubt, Throw it Out.

For additional information, or to report a complaint pertaining to food products purchased from retail or wholesale facilities in Tennessee, please contact the TDA Food Safety section at 615-837-5193.