Part of being a smart shopper is checking the expiration date on food packages. But, with the exception of baby food and infant formula, food expiration dates are really only optimal freshness guidelines. Food labeling is not required by federal law. Only about 20 states require it, and there is no consistent standard, and no U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation to define what expiration food language means.
To help clarify the wording of food expiration dates printed on packages, here is a glossary of common labeling terms:
“Sell by” – The date gives is a tip on what’s cheap as well as food safety information. The labeling is more for the grocer than it is for the consumer. Use refrigerated products within the next day or so; frozen goods can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.