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Food Safety: Following the Package Instructions - Topic Overview

Food packaging labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it. Reading food labels and following safety instructions will greatly reduce your chance of becoming ill with food poisoning.

The following guidelines are included on a packaging label.

  • Sell by: This tells the store how long to display the product. You should not buy the product after this date.
  • Best if used by: This tells you how long the product keeps its best flavor or quality. This date is not a purchase or safety date.
  • Use by: This tells you the last date that is recommended for using the product while at peak quality. The manufacturer determines this date.

Printed dates or numbers on labels without an identifier (such as "sell by") generally represent packing numbers used by the manufacturer to track inventory or locate a product. These dates do not indicate freshness or quality of the product.

Instructions you may see include:

  • Refrigerate after opening.
  • Keep refrigerated or frozen.
  • Keep hot foods hot. Refrigerate leftovers immediately or discard.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: October 18, 2012
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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