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Food Safety: Following the Package Instructions

Topic Overview

Food packaging labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it. Reading food labels and following safety instructions will greatly reduce your chance of becoming ill with food poisoning.

The following guidelines are included on a packaging label.

  • Sell by: This tells the store how long to display the product. You should not buy the product after this date.
  • Best if used by: This tells you how long the product keeps its best flavor or quality. This date is not a purchase or safety date.
  • Use by: This tells you the last date that is recommended for using the product while at peak quality. The manufacturer determines this date.

Printed dates or numbers on labels without an identifier (such as "sell by") generally represent packing numbers used by the manufacturer to track inventory or locate a product. These dates do not indicate freshness or quality of the product.

Instructions you may see include:

  • Refrigerate after opening.
  • Keep refrigerated or frozen.
  • Keep hot foods hot. Refrigerate leftovers immediately or discard.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Current as of June 4, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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