"Sell By" Versus "Use By"
One of the most important issues that a soup kitchen faces is that of food safety and sanitation. The Laramie Soup Kitchen is licensed as a public food service facility and adheres to a wide range of food safety rules as one would expect at any other restaurant. This includes temperature control; hand sanitizes for staff, volunteers, and patrons; proper cleaning of all items in the kitchen; care to avoid cross-contamination; use of aprons, hats/hairnets, and gloves as required by those handing and serving food.
A “best-if-used-by” date means that the manufacturer recommends using the product by this date for the best flavor or quality. At some point after that date, the product will change very gradually in taste, color, texture, and nutrient content. But, the product may be wholesome, nutritious, and safe past that date. A “use-by” date is the last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
You may also see a “sell-by” date on the food product. This means that the manufacturer recommends that a store sell the product by that date. It is assumed that the product may then be stored for some period of time before it is used. Therefore a “sell-by” date would be reached earlier in the life of a product than a “best-if-used-by” or the “use-by” date.
While the various dating systems do not represent expiration dates, and they do not indicated when product safety becomes an issue. They can, however, be helpful when you have concerns about when you should or should not donate a particular item. If an item is two years or more past its “use-by” date—this can often happen when someone is cleaning out the pantry of someone who is deceased or you find a can buried in the back of your pantry—please do not donate it. If it is within the two years, but you have concerns, the general rule is, “If in doubt, throw it out." Please note the exception is infant formula. Instant formula and some baby foods are unique in that they must not be used after the “use-by” date that appears on the item.
Adapted from the TASK food guidance webpage