If a calendar date is shown, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as "sell-by" or "use before." There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States.
"Sell by Feb 14" is a type of information you might find on a meat or poultry product. Does it mean the product will be unsafe to use after that date?
Here is some background information which answers these and other questions about product dating. "Open Dating" (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a date stamped on a product's package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale.
It can also help the purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. After the date passes, while it may not be of best quality, refrigerated products should still be safe if handled properly and kept at 40 °F (4.4 ºC) or below for the recommended storage times listed on the chart (see below). If product has a "sell-by" date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the chart below. Except for infant formula (see below), product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations.
However, if a calendar date is used, it must express both the month and day of the month (and the year, in the case of shelf-stable and frozen products).
"Use-by" dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates.
Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly.
See the accompanying refrigerator charts for storage times of dated products. If product has a "sell-by" date or no date, cook or freeze the product according to the times on the chart below.
Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria.
If a food has developed such characteristics, you should not use it for quality reasons.