How to Read Expiration Dates on Food Packaging

Written by sarah bostock
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How to Read Expiration Dates on Food Packaging
Eggs are tricky because the exp date is about three weeks after the date on the carton. (eggs image by Pali A from

There are so many dates on food labels that it is often challenging for a consumer to read them. The sell by date is the date that the product needs to be pulled of the shelf of the store. The best if used by date is the date that the manufacturer recommends eating the product by for the desired freshness. The use by date is the last date recommended for use of the product. Past this date the product may not meet the company's ideal standards of freshness, but it may be able to be consumed. The expiration date is the last date the food product should be eaten.

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  1. 1

    If buying a product such as milk, cheese or bread, the date should be clearly marked on the package and not in a code. Follow the guidelines in the introduction the determine it's expiration date. If purchasing from the deli, make sure the product has the current date and ask a deli worker when it was made and what the expiration date is.

  2. 2

    If buying a boxed or canned product, look on the bottom of the product for a four digit code. If the first number is a 1-9, or an O, N, or D, use the 1 for January, 2 for February and so on until September, and then an O, N, and D for October, November and December respectively. If the first letter is an A-L, determine the month using A for January, B for February and so on.

  3. 3

    Determine the day of the month that the product expires by examining the next two numbers in the series; the two digits refer to the day of the month.

  4. 4

    Determine the year by checking the last digit in the series. If the number is a 1, add the current century in front of it. For example, if the last digit is 3, recognise that the product expires in 2003.

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