Consider Quality and Safety in Stocking Holiday Kitchen Essentials

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November begins a busy season in the home kitchen as preparations are being made for holiday entertaining. As you are stocking your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with all the holiday staples, be sure to inspect the existing items for quality and safety.

Upon closer look at the dates of the foods buried in the back of your cabinet, you may question the date codes, “use-by” dates, and the overall safety of the discovered food product.

Decipher the date codes and get your food supplies in order for the busy season ahead by following these tips.

There are two types of dating on food packaging:

Open Dating gives an actual date instead of a code. It is used mainly on perishable foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products. This type of dating helps retailers know when to pull foods from shelves, and helps consumers purchase food at its best quality.

When a calendar date is used, there are three types frequently used:

• A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.

• A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

• A “Best-By” date is the last date recommended by the manufacturer for the use of the product while at peak quality.

Closed or Coded Dating may appear on shelf-stable packaged foods, such as cans, boxes, or bags. These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. There is no standardized coding system used for foods. It may be necessary to call, write or visit the Web site of the company to help determine whether these foods are safe and/or of best quality to eat.

Dates on Egg Cartons

Always purchase eggs before the “Sell-By” or “EXP” (Expiration) date on the carton. If you cannot locate a “Sell-By” date on the carton, you may be able to locate the pack date, displayed as a three-number code that represents the consecutive day of the year (Julian date) starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365.

Refrigerate eggs in their original carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door. Use eggs within three to five weeks of the date you purchase them.

Avoiding Problems with Outdated Foods

• READ LABELS CAREFULLY when purchasing food for usage dates.

• Keep a permanent marker handy and put the day, month and YEAR you purchased the food on the container.

• Practice “first in, first out,” or what foodservice professionals refer to as FIFO. Arrange food products with the oldest date in front to be used first.

• If you tossed expired foods, buy a smaller container or fewer packages next time.

• If you cannot use a perishable food by the expiration date, freeze it. A food kept frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below will be safe indefinitely although quality will decrease with time.

Sources: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension, Food Reflections, Image:

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Cleveland County Center, for more information on food and nutrition and food safety, contact Nancy Abasiekong by phone: 704-482-4365, by e-mail:, or by mail: 130 South Post Road, Suite 1, Shelby, NC 28152