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"Open Dating" is a calendar date applied to a food product by the manufacturer or retailer.

The calendar date provides consumers with information on the estimated period of time for which the product will be of best quality and to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale.

Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.

[Top of Page] How do Manufacturers Determine Quality Dates?

The quality of perishable products may deteriorate after the date passes, however, such products should still be safe if handled properly.

Consumers must evaluate the quality of the product prior to its consumption to determine if the product shows signs of spoilage. Open dating is found on most foods including meat, poultry, egg and dairy products.

Here is some background information answering these and other questions about product dating. Two types of product dating may be shown on a product label.Microorganisms such as molds, yeasts, and bacteria can multiply and cause food to spoil.Viruses are not capable of growing in food and do not cause spoilage.Factors including the length of time and the temperature at which a food is held during distribution and offered for sale, the characteristics of the food, and the type of packaging will affect how long a product will be of optimum quality.Manufacturers and retailers will consider these factors when determining the date for which the product will be of best quality.Food spoilage can occur much faster if it is not stored or handled properly.A change in the color of meat or poultry is not an indicator of spoilage (The Color of Meat and Poultry).To comply, a calendar date must express both the month and day of the month.In the case of shelf-stable and frozen products, the year must also be displayed.Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria.If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten.

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