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Food Safety: Following the Package Instructions


Following food label instructions will reduce your chance of getting food poisoning. Food packaging labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it.

Packaging labels include the following guidelines.

  • Sell by: This tells the store how long to display the product.
  • Best if used by: This tells you how long the product keeps its best flavor or quality. This date isn't a purchase or safety date.
  • Use by: This tells you the last date recommended for using the product at its best quality.

Food is safe to use after these dates as long as it has been stored and handled properly. Look for any signs of spoilage such as an off odor, texture, or flavor. Throw the food away if you notice these. Infant formula should not be used after the "use by" date has passed.

Printed dates or numbers on labels without an identifier (such as "sell by") most often are packing or inventory numbers. These dates don't signal freshness or quality of the product.

Other instructions may include:

  • Refrigerate after opening.
  • Keep refrigerated or frozen.
  • Keep hot foods hot. Refrigerate leftovers immediately or discard.


Current as of: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.