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Factors including the length of time and the temperature at which a food is held during distribution and offered for sale, the characteristics of the food, and the type of packaging will affect how long a product will be of optimum quality.Manufacturers and retailers will consider these factors when determining the date for which the product will be of best quality.Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria.

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Additionally, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "Best if Used By." [Top of Page] Are Dates for Food Safety or Quality?

Manufacturers provide dating to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality.

To comply, a calendar date must express both the month and day of the month.

In the case of shelf-stable and frozen products, the year must also be displayed.

Microorganisms such as molds, yeasts, and bacteria can multiply and cause food to spoil.

Viruses are not capable of growing in food and do not cause spoilage.

There are two types of bacteria that can be found on food: pathogenic bacteria, which cause foodborne illness, and spoilage bacteria, which cause foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant characteristics such as an undesirable taste or odor making the food not wholesome, but do not cause illness.

When spoilage bacteria have nutrients (food), moisture, time, and favorable temperatures, these conditions will allow the bacteria to grow rapidly and affect the quality of the food.

"Closed or coded dates" are a series of letters and/or numbers and typically appear on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food. There are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for open dating in the United States.

As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases used on labels to describe quality dates. One source of food waste arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about the meaning of dates displayed on the label.

Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.

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