What Do the Dates on Your Canned Foods Mean?

Are you unsure about how long a can of tuna will last? What do the stamps printed on the cans mean? Can the stamped dates tell you how long an item will store? Those codes sure can be confusing! Here are some things to keep in mind when storing canned foods:

First, you may be able to get some information from the product codes printed on the cans, but not much. Cans that list a “use by” date or a “best if eaten by” mean more than random numbers or dates without labels. Other codes or dates printed on cans are not even for customers, they are only labels for the food producers themselves. Here are some common dates printed on cans and other packaged foods and what they mean:

Pay close attention if a can has a use-by or expiration date. Canned foods very rarely have use-by or expiration dates. Baby products, like formula and canned baby food are some of the few items with these labels. These and other specific foods with expiration dates are very important and should be followed accurately.

Make sure to purchase canned foods before the sell-by date. But there is not common consensus for how long food will store on your shelf after this date. This varies between different types of foods, storage conditions, and maybe some luck. The general guideline of two years applies to foods with sell-by dates that have past.

Best-it-used-by dates:
These dates are placed on products as a prediction of how long the item will last in peak condition, or with the best flavor and optimum nutrition. This date is not a sell-by date or an expiration date. Canned foods can last years past this date, even though they may technically not be at the peak of quality.

Other dates:
Dates that are coded or not given an explanation are most likely printed only for the manufacturer, often as a label code of the day it was canned. These dates are sometimes coded so that the average consumer cannot decipher them. For information on how to interpret some of these codes, check out this article.

Perhaps you read this article hoping to get some exact answers about how long to store your canned foods. And, maybe now after reading it you still feel confused. Well, that’s because there are no specific answers for how long canned foods will store. It is really a guessing game when trying to determine how long they will remain good. There is no way to tell for sure how long something will last. If you do your own research, you will find many different answers. Read the next article in the series about canned foods, “How Long Will Your Canned Foods Last?” to get specific recommendations for various types of canned foods.

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