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OIT HBF understanding best by dates article

Understanding ‘Best By’ Dates

How many times have you looked at a label on food and been utterly confused about the freshness and safety of the food? Some of us are strict about adhering to the label guidelines and throw food out the day of the ‘expiry’ or ‘sell by’ date. While others will adhere to their personal smell or taste test standard. Confusion over the meaning of date labels is estimated to account for ~$1.8 Billion consumer waste1.

According to ReFED, a nonprofit working to send food loss and waste, “Current date labeling practices on food packaging is inconsistent and can cause confusion between ‘sell-by’, ‘best-by’, ‘use-by’, and ‘best before’ dates.” This eventually leads many consumers to throw out food that is still safe and edible. Confusion over the meaning of date labels is estimated to account for 2-5% of all consumer waste.

Here’s a quick tip from Dana Gunder, Executive Director of ReFED; “Contrary to popular belief, ‘best by’ and ‘sell by’ dates are actually just manufacturer suggestions for when the food is at its peak quality—not indicating the food is bad. Most food can safely be eaten after those dates as the product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly. However it is important to note any signs of spoilage, such as off-odor, flavor or texture.”

Additionally, confusion around date labels can restrict or limit the amount of safe, quality foods that can be donated to food banks and given to those in need2.

For these reasons, Hellmann’s/Best Foods are pushing for legislative change at both the federal and state level to create standardization and clarity around food date labels, so that people finally have a reference point for their personal consumption and donations. By aligning with an industry standard, people will face less variation in date labels and be able to easily determine the quality or safety implications of consuming food that has passed its labeled date3.

Hellmann’s/Best Foods will be partnering with Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic to drive forward legislative policy that pushes for federal standardization and clarity of food date labels.


Shop Hellmann’s or Best Foods Mayonnaise by clicking here! (Links opens in new window.)


1 ReFED – Solution database: Standardized Date Labels (

2 Legislators & industry tackle food waste by easing donation guidelines & tightening expiry labeling

3 ReFED – Solution database: Standardized Date Labels (