Additional Information

Food Product Dating

  • Dates are printed voluntarily on many food items, but they are not required by the Federal Government. Food product dating can appear as open dates that are readable to consumers or closed dates that appear as codes on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food. Both dating systems enable manufacturers and retailers to rotate their stock and can help with product tracing. 

  • Calendar dates help grocery stores determine how long to display the product for sale and relate to the peak quality of food, not safety. Calendar dates are found primarily on perishable foods, such as dairy products, eggs, meat and poultry.

Here are the three ways that products are dated:

  • "Sell-by" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before this date to ensure maximum quality.
  • “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.
  • “Best if used by (or before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers used by the manufacturer.

It should be noted that the dates found on products are the food manufacturer’s recom­mendations regarding optimal quality of the product. The dates are not necessarily guides for food safety. For instance, a product may be safe to eat beyond the “best if used by” date, but would not be of highest quality.

Also, in most cases, the product date is deter­mined for a product remaining unopened and stored in a proper manner. Once opened, the quality limits of the product will vary from the date printed on the package.

Fresh Produce

  • Raw fruits and vegetables are safe to eat at room temperature, but, after ripening will mold and rot quickly. For best quality, store ripe fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator or prepare and freeze. But remember, there are some exceptions:
    • Some hardy, dense vegetables like onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squash can be stored in cool, dark places outside of the refrigerator.
    • Tomatoes taste best not refrigerated. They become mealy in cold storage.
    • Bananas will not ripen while cold; refrigeration will cause banana skin to blacken, but they are safe to eat.
    • Very fresh apples, mangoes and stone fruits can be stored at room temperature, but these items should be refrigerated as they ripen.
  • When preparing any fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after preparation. Wash produce under running water and dry with paper towels before preparation or eating. Even if you plan to peel produce before eating, wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the hand or knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  •  In most cases, it is better to wash produce just before eating. If washed prior to storing in the refrigerator, the moisture can accelerate spoilage.
  • Once fruits and vegetables are cut, chopped or cooked, they should be placed in the refrigerator or frozen in freezer containers within two hours.

Shelf Stable Foods: Spices, Extracts, Condiments, and Sauces

  • Store spices in a tightly-capped container and keep them away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight. Replace their lids right after use. Avoid storing spices and herbs over the stove, near a dishwasher or sink, or near a window.
  • Be sure to use a completely dry measuring spoon when dipping it into a jar of a spice or herb.
  • Members of the red pepper family, including paprika and chili powder, will retain their color and flavor when stored in the refrigerator.
  • Try not to sprinkle spices and herbs directly from the bottle into a steaming pot. Repeated exposure to heat and moisture will hasten flavor loss and could result in caking. Instead, measure them into a cup, measuring spoon or bowl and then add to your recipe.


  • Keep EVERYTHING clean—hands, utensils, counters, cutting boards and sinks.9
  • Always WASH HANDS with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before preparing foods and after handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Remember to always wash your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Equipment should also be washed with hot, soapy water.

USDA-FDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

Food Internal Temperature
Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb, Steaks, Roasts and Chops 145°Fwith 3 minute rest time
Fish 145°F
Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb
Egg Dishes 160°F
Turkey, Chicken and Duck
Whole, Pieces and Ground
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Do not use recipes in which the eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
  • With microwave cooking, it is important to stir and rotate the food for even cooking. Make sure there are no cold spots in the food, because bacteria can survive in these areas. When microwaving convenience foods, such as frozen meals, read and follow package cooking instructions.
  • Bring soups, sauces and gravies to a boil when reheating; reheat leftovers to at least 165ºF.
  • Do not let juices from raw meat, poultry or seafood come in contact with ready-to-eat foods during shopping, in the refrigerator or during preparation.
  • Always put cooked food on a clean plate that did not previously hold raw meat, poultry or seafood or unwashed produce.
  • Consumers may choose either wood or a nonporous surface cutting board such as plastic, marble, glass or pyroceramic. Nonporous surfaces are easier to clean than wood.
  • If possible, use different cutting boards for raw meat and poultry, produce and ready-to eat foods. When using cutting boards, make sure that they are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.


  • Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If the room temperature is above 90°F, food should be discarded after 1 hour.
  • Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.
  • Use cooked leftovers within 4 days.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165ºF.
  • Refreezing: meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking. If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.

Handling Food Safely During a Power Outage

To be prepared, keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and freezer to monitor the temperature.

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer door closed.
  • A full freezer will stay frozen for about two days; a half-full freezer about one day.
  • Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as the power is out for no more than four hours.
  • If you think the power will be out for several days, locate some block ice, bags of ice or dry ice to put in the freezer along with your refrigerated perishable food, or keep the food continually iced in an insulated cooler.
  • Foods thawed and held above 40ºF for more than two hours should be discarded. Any perishable food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch should also be discarded.
  • If you have any doubts about the safety of any item in your refrigerator after power is restored, discard it.

Handling Food Safely

Many cases of foodborne illness occur each year due to improper handling of food in the home. Microorganisms multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40ºF and 140ºF. Unfortunately, the harmful bacteria that cause most cases of food¬borne illness cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. Therefore, it is important to keep cold foods cold (40ºF or below) and hot foods hot (140ºF or above) and follow these additional rules from the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s FightBAC!® and Food Safe Families campaign:

  1. CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often and thoroughly.
  2. SEPARATE: Do not cross-contaminate raw and cooked foods.
  3. COOK: Cook foods to recommended and safe internal temperatures.
  4. CHILL: Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours. Remember to keep your refrigerator at 40ºF or below.

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