The Truth About Manufacturer Sell-By Dates

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding sell-by dates. For a start, not many people actually know what a sell-by date is. The sell-by date is the date marked on a perishable product which indicates the recommended date by which it should be sold.

Many people are afraid of becoming sick if they eat something that has passed its sell-by date, so they will generally throw a product out if they see that it has expired. While the safe approach never hurt anyone, it’s important to know that in actual fact, the sell-by date is only a recommendation, and many times food remains 100% edible after these dates – sometimes for quite a while!

Check out the following info about sell-by dates, and never look at your perishable items the same way again:

What’s the difference between a sell-by date, best before date, and use by date?

Although many people use these terms interchangeably depending on where they’re from, these terms were intended to mean three pretty different things.

The sell-by date is the date given by manufacturers to supermarkets to tell them when to sell the product by.

The best before date is a recommendation to consumers of when to eat the product for optimal freshness.

The use by date is placed on food to warn consumers that the manufacturers don’t feel it’s safe to eat their food after this date.

Minerva Studio /
Minerva Studio /

When did sell-by dates start being used?

Sell-by dates started appearing on food items in the United States in the 1970s. This is because in the last 50 years there had been a major shift from local farms providing most of the nation’s food to it coming into American homes from producers all around the world. People still wanted information about how it was made, so the sell-by date was created to inform people when a product would be at its optimal freshness.

Luis Castro /
Luis Castro /

Why do so many people follow these sell-by dates so religiously?

Many people adhere strictly to the sell-by dates on perishable items because they are afraid of getting sick. Food-borne illnesses have claimed the lives of many people throughout history, and even now, with food safety technology at the absolute peak, people are still afraid of getting sick from their food.

The deadliest food-borne illness outbreak is still in many people’s recent memory — around 50 people died from eating listeria-contaminated cheese in California in 1985. This is only one of a handful of major outbreaks that has happened in the USA in the last 50 years.

Sakarin Sawasdinaka /
Sakarin Sawasdinaka /
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