Open Dating

“Open Dating” on a food product is a date stamped on a product’s packages to help the store determine how long to hold the food for sale. It can be helpful to the consumer to identify the time limit to buy the item or when the product is at its best quality. It is NOT a safety date.

With the exception of infant formula and baby food, product dating is not required by federal regulations. If a date is used on perishable foods, it must have both the day and month. On shelf-stable and frozen products the year must also be included, a phrase explaining the meaning of the date such as “sell by” or “use before” must also be present.

There is no uniform system used for food dating by manufacturers in the U.S. Although dating of some foods is required by more than 20 states, some states do not require any date codes.

When present “open dating” is found primarily on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. “Closed” or “coded” dating might appear on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food.

Types of Dates


Tells the store how long to hold the food for sale. This date is set by the manufacture, and they factor in the household storage time. Buying food before the sell-by-date expires, gives you maximum storage.

Best-if-Used-By (or Before) -Date

Is indicates best flavor or quality. It is NOT a safety date and does not indicate when a food should be purchased.


Is the last date recommended for peak quality. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product. This also is NOT a safety date.

Expiration Date

Is the only dating that is tied to an items spoilage. (Meat, Dairy..)

Safety After Dates Expire

Except for “use-by-dates,” product dates don’t always refer to home storage or use after purchase. Even if the dates expires during home storage, perishable foods should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality – if handled properly and kept in the refrigerator or frozen.

Products Without Any Dates

Undated items are different than NO DATE due to the fact you do not expect a date on them. You just already understand when it is good or bad to use. (Fresh items like fruit, veggies, homemade items.)

Expiration Dates

EnPuzzlement does NOT deal in any food product that has an “Expiration date.” We only deal with shelf stable products.

Reasons the Manufactures Place “Sell by Dates” on their Products

– To keep track of quarterly sales

– To rotate holiday items or Logo/Promotional items
– To keep track of coupon promotions 
– To keep track of the date that a full refund will be provided for the product

“Sell By” Date Protection 

If you are doing any type of food give away, “Sell By” dates are a form of protection. If your food distribution comprises only food that is marked, past the sell by date, you are guaranteeing that your service gift of food cannot be returned to a retail store in exchange for cash.

Types of Food Items that EnPuzzlement Receives and Offers

Past “Sell By Date” – Most of these are donated items that are donated knowing that they are going to be used for human consumption. Companies will leave labels on their product and donate to the non profit world, secure in knowing that no health harm will come from their product. Donating these items also keeps consumable product out of landfills and reduces waste.

“At Date” Product –These products are close to, or just over the “best by or sell by date”. These products would not make it to a retail location in time to have a long enough sale period on the shelves to justify the costs. It isn’t cost effective to ship to a retailer for a short period of time, then have the product exceed the “sell by date,” then ship the product back to the manufacture. Its is more cost effective to just donate the item and save all the shipping cost.

“In Date” Product – These products are within the “sell by use by best by” time per manufacture. We will purchase some of these products at wholesale and offer them to other non-profits at wholesale. These items are an option for groups that want only “in date” items to give away. This is a great option, with the only downside being the cost, compared to donated items. We have an unlimited selection to purchase from a national food sale network. There is no mark up on these items.