Expiration Dating for Meat, Poultry, and Eggs

Expiration Dating Requirements.

Expiration Dating and Product Coding and Marking for Meat Fish Poultry Pork and Eggs Date coding such as expiration dating, for meat (or similar products like poultry, pork, fish and eggs) is not federally mandated. There may however be regulations on a state or municipal level for product dating.

Also, while product dating is not federally required for meat or poultry, there are certain standards that apply to date marking and coding when it is used on these and other products.

“If a calendar date is used, it must express both the month and day of the month (and the year, in the case of shelf-stable and frozen products). If a calendar date is shown, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as “sell-by” or “use before.” USDA – FSIS

As a best practice, Date Marking is a valuable concept in food packaging. In general, food dating is meant to inform retailers as to how long a product should be displayed for purchase, and to inform consumers as to how long a product will remain at peak quality for consumption.

Types of Expiration Dating.

Several conventions have been adopted for date labeling of meat as well as poultry, fish, eggs and other food products:

  • Sell-By Date: date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • Use-By Date: 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.

Related terms include:

  • Open Dating: usage of a calendar date to express product dating. *See note above for FDA requirements.
  • Closed or Coded Dating: are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

The labeling accuracy as well as safeness and wholesomeness of meat, poultry and eggs is overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The Labeling and Consumer Protection Office at FSIS develops policies and standards to ensure that labeling is truthful and not misleading. Labeling includes all forms of product identification, nutritional information, net weight, species identification, and claims related to meat, poultry, and eggs for human consumption.

More specific information regarding requirements for labeling and marking or coding of meat, poultry and eggs can be found on the USDA’s website, or by contacting your local department of health.

USDA – Food Labeling Fact Sheets