We get a lot of questions about expiration dates. Since we are a extreme bargain retailer, we've had customers assume that we sell expired or bad food. While it is true that we sell products closer to their sell by dates than a conventional supermarket, we are extraordinarily careful not to sell anything that is spoiled or bad. Above all, we care about our customers' safety and satisfaction.
It's a tricky thing to understand fully, but in our business, some dates are used as guides and some are strict dates. It's very important to know the difference between expiration dates, sell by dates, and best by dates. Here's some information to help you untangle the difference between each type of date.
Best if used by and use-by date: With emphasis on the "best" qualifier in this term, it means the product should retain maximum freshness, flavor and texture if used by this date. It is not a purchase-by or safety date. Beyond this date, the product is still good, though you should keep an eye on it to make sure it's still fresh.
Sell-by or pull-by date: This date is used by manufacturers to tell grocers when to remove their product from the shelves, but there is generally still some leeway for home usage. For example, milk often has a sell-by date, but the milk will usually still be good for at least a week beyond that date if properly refrigerated.
Guaranteed fresh: This date is often used for perishable baked goods. Beyond this date, freshness is no longer guaranteed although it's probably still edible.
Pack date: This is the date the item was packed, most-used on canned and boxed goods. It is usually in the form of an encrypted code not easy to decipher. It may be coded by month (M), day (D), and year (Y), such as YYMMDD or MMDDYY. Or it may be coded using Julian (JJJ) numbers, where January 1 would be 001 and December 31 would be 365. In even more convoluted coding, letters A through M (omitting the letter I) are often assigned to the months, with A being January and M being December, plus a numeric day, either preceded or followed by the numeric year.
Expiration date: If you haven't used the product by this date, toss it out. Other dating terms are used as a basic guideline, but this one means what it says.
Information gathered from this article on About.com.
Each product is different! To get more information on expiration dates, including a comprehensive list of products and their freshness time frame, check out this wiki article on expiration dates. We were really impressed by it.