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How to Decode Food Product Dates

May 8th, 2009 - ryan4455

Lately I’ve been getting several questions regarding how to decode food product dates. There seems to be a lot of confusion about products that have different date coding information. There are mainly two types of food product dates, open dates and closed dates (also known as coded dates).

Open Dates
Open dates are the use of a calender date on a food product that are usually easy to read. This type of dating is usually found on perishable goods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Open dates can be any of the following types:

Sell-By Date
A “Sell-By” date lets the store know how long to display a product for sale. You should always buy your products prior to the expiration date. Although, not all products use these dates. If that is the case, it is best to contact the manufacturer for an expiration date.

Best if Used by Date
A “Best if Used by” date is the recommended date for best flavor or quality. This date is not a purchase or safety date.

Use-By Date
A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for consumption of the product while at its peak quality. This date is always determined by the food manufacturer of the product.

Closed Dates
Closed dates or coded dates are dates that are used by the manufacturer. This type of date is specifically for manufacturers to rotate stock or locate old products in the event of a recall. Closed dates are also used to track the product in interstate commerce. Coded dates may or may not refer to the date of when the food product was manufactured. Therefore, closed dates are not meant to be used in place of “use-by” dates.

How Can I Decode Closed/Coded Dates?
You may stumble upon a food product that does not contain an open date. Therefore you may feel inclined to decode the closed date to find when the product was manufactured. There are two issues with decoding closed dates. Issue one, the closed date may not reference the product manufacture date or may not even be a coded date at all. Issue two, since there is no uniform coding system for food products it can get very confusing at times when different manufacturers write their codes differently. However, with these two issues in mind some products can still be decoded.

Can Codes
Canned food coding usually use a series of letters and numbers to specify the date.

For the month, 0 to 9 represents January through September, and letters O for October, N for November and D for December. [2] Otherwise, if only letters are used then A through L represents January through December.

For the year, 8=1998; 9=1999; 0=2000; 1=2001; 2=2002, etc.

Additional information with some manufacturer specific coding can be found at Mealtime.org


  1. Food Product Dating – USDA
  2. Reading Can Codes – Mealtime.org

2 Responses to “How to Decode Food Product Dates”

  1. Lewis Says:

    Sell by date 05/2013 when I open how long can I have it in refrigerator

  2. Ryan Christenson Says:

    The amount of time a product can be refrigerated depends on the type of product. Check out this chart for more info.

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