Best-By, Sell-By, Use-By: Learn the Code to Save Money and Avoid Food Poisoning in Your Apartment.

Have you ever fallen victim to a chunky milk or moldy cheese disaster? Bonus points if it happens during a dinner party.As someone who constantly wasted money by throwing out way too much food when I first moved into my apartment, I’m here to help you navigate food labeling, the tumultuous waters of Sell-By, Best-By, and Use-By dates on your food. (You should know that except for infant formula, dating of food is not required by the Federal regulations, so any dates you see are determined by the manufacturer or the store that aim to sell you more sooner.)


This refers to how long an item should be displayed before the quality STARTS to diminish. Aka, eat your heart out- those Hot Cheetos are still good to go. The USDA simply says to buy the product before the sell-by date, normally these foods are okay to eat for a while after the sell-by date. Your taste buds will tell you when the chips are stale.


This is a suggestion for when the food will be at the height of its quality. The USDA maintains that this date is neither a purchase by date OR a safety date. Again, if the product is consumed within a short period of time, you are still good to go! If the product looks, smells and tastes right, it should be OK to use.


These dates, determined by the manufacturer, mostly show on refrigerated or fresh foods (they normally go bad more quickly than non-refrigerated foods). Most likely, your fresh foods that are past the use by date will develop mold, a sour odor, and will be dangerous to consume past this date, leaving you more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. If you use canned goods past the use by date, there is no guarantee they won’t make you sick, and the flavor, texture, and appearance of the canned food may have been affected.

Best if Used By:

This is the preferred label recommended by USDA in their effort to cut down food waste. USDA estimates that 30% of food is wasted between retail and consumers so they believe that this label says more clearly that the product is still safe to use after the date.

In general, use foods before they go bad and only buy what you are sure you will be able to eat before they go bad. If you are someone who tends to let food go bad and then throw it out, there are lots of helpful tricks online about how to extend the life of food, especially fresh foods, so they don’t age as quickly. Proper food storage is a must. For example, make sure you are storing fruits, vegetables, and meat in the designated drawers in your refrigerator. Also, don’t let fresh foods sit open on your counter or in your fridge. Oxygen affects many fresh foods and will cause them to decay more quickly than if they were sealed.

Paying attention to these details when living alone is paramount so that you can protect the health of yourself and your guests, save some money, and be kinder to the environment.


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Digital marketing specialist from Milwaukee, WI. I semi-hibernate through Wisconsin winters and eventually make it to spring. My hobbies include reading, piano, the gym (gains?), and spoiling my puppy. I've never met a hobby I didn't like. Follow along on my journey of apartment triumphs and defeats, served with a hearty side of sarcasm.

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