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Store This, Not That! > Blog > Cooking with Food Storage > USDA Food Storage Guidelines
January 25th, 2012

USDA Food Storage Guidelines

Another commonly asked food storage question is how long will short term food storage cans last.  In fact, my best friend called me just last week to know if some discounted fruit snacks that were close to reaching their best by date were safe to buy and eat.  So, what do I mean by short term food storage cans?  Well, I’m talking canned items you would purchase at a grocery store like canned corn, canned green beans, etc.  If you’ve noticed these items have a “best by” date printed on the can.  Is the food still good to eat after the best by date?  It is important to understand what the USDA is talking about when they put these definitions on cans so we know how long we can safely keep it in our food storage!


  • “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.
So, now that we get that there are DIFFERENT definitions and a best by date is not a “you will die if you eat it after this date” recommendation-what does it really mean?  Well, USDA got real specific…”Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always refer to home storage and use after purchase. “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. But even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly and kept at 40 °F or below. See the accompanying refrigerator charts for storage times of dated products. If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date. If product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the chart below (click HERE to view the USDA chart).

Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such characteristics, you should not use it for quality reasons.”

Obviously, it is still true that if the can is dented or bulging you should THROW IT OUT!  Both of those are signs of possible botulism causing agents in the food and are NOT WORTH RISKING!


Now, what if you saw some meat in the “Manager Special” section of the meat department reaching it’s “Sell by” date that is a great deal that you’d like to either add to your freezer for some food storage or to can.  Is that safe to buy and use in food storage or will it “expire” on the date indicated on the packaging?  Well, lucky for you and me the USDA requires the sell by date to be a few days before the product is likely to become rancid and unsafe for consumption.  The USDA has already figured that most of us buy meat to use within the next couple of days (assuming proper storage).  To check out USDA’s chart of how long product will last in your fridge with proper storage, click HERE.

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  • Puterbum8

    January 25, 2012 at 9:46 am

    The chart shows mostly meat products.  Do you know where to find stuff on canned fruits and vegies.  Thanks so much for all your hard work.

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