What do expiration dates mean?

We've all had foods around the house that were past their use by or expiration dates. But have you ever wondered what those dates actually mean?

Right now the Food and Drug Administration only requires expiration dates on infant formula.

But most manufacturers include dates for convenience and to make sure consumers get the best product possible.

While rolling through the aisles at your local grocery, the dates on the packages seem to be in a language of their own. As it turns out, most food is edible after the date, but it may not be the tastiest.

Here is a guide to the major codes.

Expiration dates mean just that, the product is no good after that date.

The "best if used by" date means the flavor or quality is best by this date, but the product is still edible sometime after that.

The term "used by" simply means it's the last day the manufacturer vouches for the quality, but chances are it's still good.

KHQA caught up with Rich Niemann, store director of the County Market at 48th and Broadway in Quincy.

"What is a sell by date?"

Niemann said, "It's when the item should leave the shelf of the store. When the consumer takes it home, it's up to the consumer to decided when they bought it, and if it's still good for their family to eat."

Niemann says manufacturers put a lot of money and research into determining the dates you find on the food. In fact, the product's marking companies gear the dates conservatively to make sure the product tastes the best when you eat it.

Niemann said, "We, as retailers and manufacturers, want someone to come back and buy it again. If that product is not right, likely a person might not buy it again. So very concerned on all ends and all levels of the product's life."

Niemann says most items like frozen food, dehydrated items like potato chips and canned items will be safe to eat even after the label's listed date.

But it may not taste as good as they would have before the date listed.

When it comes to safety you need to pay close attention to expiration dates on things like meat, produce and dairy products, and use your common sense in these situations as well as the old smell test.

Niemann said, "When the customer is shopping I think it is important to understand that there are dates on everything. Encourage them to take a peek at that date and look at the language that's on there. What are you comfortable with."

What's comforting is that most retailers like County Market do quality control for you, checking dates on all items and pulling them before the "sell by" date, making sure that the groceries you choose to take home are their best.

Niemann said, "The manufacturer, the retailer take a lot of time to make sure that product that goes home. We are comfortable with you having it, we won't send anything home that we would not eat ourselves."

There are also some terms you'll find on canned goods and beers like the "born on date" that you may want to know about.