Many foods and drinks purchased at the grocery store include a date, which indicates when it should be used or sold by. Because these dates refer to the product’s quality, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be thrown out. What do these dates mean?

Food labeling can be confusing and a date on a food doesn’t mean it is expired so what do the terms actually mean?

A “sell by” date is just that. It helps stores to determine when to sell an item by. This is not a safety deadline but may indicate products that have been sitting on the shelf longer. These foods are safe to use if past the sell by date.

A “best by” date means the food is still safe to use but is the recommended date for best flavor or quality.

A “use by” date it means it’s no longer at peak quality according to the manufacturer. The food would be safe to consume for a few more days assuming it was held at proper temperatures.

Some highly perishable foods such as dairy may “go bad” prior to the dates on the carton, especially if the food has been exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees. Keeping the temperature in your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees can help to keep your foods safe for a longer period of time. If you are in an apartment, get a refrigerator thermometer since apartment and keep your refrigerator between 38-40 degrees.

When purchasing milk, some brands will use ultra-high temperature pasteurization which has the advantage of a longer shelf. This milk is treated at 275 degrees F for 2-5 seconds and this high temperature it kills bacteria and increases the shelf life to over 6 months. These milks are found on the pantry shelfs and not in the refrigerator case. Organic milks in the refrigerated cases can also be ultra-high temperature pasteurized and can have an extended shelf life as well.

If you are unsure about a particular food item in your refrigerator, consider downloading one of these free apps. “Is my food safe” is an app from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Another good app is “Food Keeper” which can help to determine how long a food can be stored and used

Dean Miller
Assistant Athletic Director of Sports Medicine at Rice University

“It is a great honor to be the first AdvoCare®Sports Advisory Council Chair. I am excited to accept the role of integrating the talents of Council members for the purpose of providing AdvoCare Distributors with solid practical applications for products in the areas of fitness, sports performance training, and injury rehabilitation.”

  • Former athletic trainer for several MotoGP World Champions
  • Former head athletic trainer / sports therapist at De La Salle High School (CA)
  • Former personal athletic trainer / sports therapist for US Synchronized Swimming
  • National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) member
  • Owner of Sports Medtech