Skip Navigation
Child Nutrition
Main Content
Office of Child Nutrition logo

Product Dates

Product dates are guides to determine a product's freshness. There are a variety of terms used to define when a food loses quality. It is important to understand the differences in these terms to ensure the health and safety of the children in your care.

Sell By

A product with a "sell-by" date must be sold or taken off the shelf by the date on the package. A product is still safe to use after this date, but be sure to keep in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. If a product has a "sell-by" date, cook or freeze within the following timeframes:

†These foods may only be served once every two-week cycle.
Fresh Product Cook or Freeze Within...of "Sell-by" Date
Poultry 1 to 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Beef, Ground Poultry 1 to 2 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks
Processed Product If Unopened After Opening
Pre-Cooked Packaged Poultry† 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Lunch Meat† 2 weeks 3 to 5 days
Bacon† 2 weeks 7 days
Hot Dogs† 2 weeks 7 days
Cooked Sausage† 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days Slices, 3 days; Whole, 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled "keep refrigerated"† 9 months 3 to 4 days
Best Before
Best if Used By
Best By

A product with one of these terms has guaranteed quality and freshness until the printed date. It does not need to be purchased by that date and is not necessarily unsafe if the date has passed.

Use By

A "use-by" date tells you when a product loses its quality and freshness, and may be unsafe to eat. If a product is past its "use-by" date, throw it away to avoid any risk of illness.

Canned Foods

Do not use cans that have rusted, swollen or are severely dented! If a can is not damaged, it has a long shelf-life. High-acid foods such as tomatoes, pineapple and grapefruit can be stored for 12 - 18 months. Low-acid foods such as canned meats, poultry, fish and vegetables can generally be stored from 2 - 5 years.

These guidelines are recommendations only. Use your judgment. If a product has been tampered with, or changed in color, texture or smell, discard it.

Food Product Dating. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Accessed August 13, 2010.