Do you know the difference between these labels? Here’s how it can save you money


Updated date labeling guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could save you money by reducing the amount of food you toss in the garbage can.

Americans throw away an estimated 30-40% of their food each year, including food at home and at restaurants.

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USDA updates food labeling guidance 

The government is now encouraging food manufacturers and retailers that voluntarily put product dating on items to use a “Best if Used By” date label.

As you already know, some items currently have other terms printed on them, such as “Use-by” or Sell-by.”

Since several different phrases are commonly used, the USDA said in a news release that consumers have discarded wholesome and safe food because they find the labels confusing.

For instance, someone may think that “Sell-by” means you have to eat the item by that date or it’s no good. Not true.

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USDA: ‘Best if Used By’ is best! 

According to the USDA, “Best if Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of the best flavor or quality and isn’t a purchase or safety date.

Research has found that people easily grasp this phrase as an indicator of quality — not safety.


“In an effort to reduce food loss and waste, these changes will give consumers clear and consistent information when it comes to date labeling on the food they buy,” said Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash.”

Although the date label refers to a product’s quality, it may still be safe to eat past the “Best if Used By” date as long as there are no signs of spoilage, like an unusual odor or texture.

To recap, here’s the USDA’s take:

  • ‘Best if Used By/Before’: Indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It’s not a purchase or safety date.
  • ‘Sell-By’: Tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It’s not a safety date.
  • ‘Use-By’: Last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It’s not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.

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