Frequently Asked Questions

Is the dating of shelf-stable foods required by federal law?

Except for infant formula and some baby food, product dating — having a "use-by," "sell-by," or "best-if-used-by" date — is not required by Federal regulations. Dating is for quality, not safety. However, 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." While there is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States, dating of some foods is required by more than 20 states. A shelf-stable product can be safely used after the "sell-by" date. Products displaying a "use-by" date, although still safe, may not be of acceptable quality after the "use-by" date. (Adapted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

What about the codes or numbers on canned goods?

Cans have packing codes that may contain a series of letters or numbers. These codes help track canned products in the market place in case they’re recalled. The packing codes also help manufacturers and grocers rotate their stock. (Adapted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Are retailers allowed to sell products beyond their expiration date?

With the exception of infant formula, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label. FDA does not require food firms to place "expired by", "use by" or "best before" dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. A principle of U.S. food law is that foods in U.S. commerce must be wholesome and fit for consumption. (Adapted from the Food & Drug Administration)

Is it safe to use food from dented cans?

If a can containing food has a small dent, but is otherwise in good shape, the food should be safe to eat. Discard deeply dented cans. Deep dents often have sharp points. A sharp dent on either the top or side seam can damage the seam and allow bacteria to enter the can. Discard any can with a deep dent on any seam. (Adapted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

If a can hisses when opened, is the food safe to eat?

Some cans make a hissing sound when opened because they are vacuum-packed and the noise is a result of air pressure. This is perfectly normal. However, if a can hisses loudly or the contents spurt forcefully out of the can when opened, it may be an indication that the food is unsafe. Do not taste or use such food. (Adapted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

What about frozen food?

You can freeze almost any food. Some exceptions are canned food or eggs in shells. However, once the food (such as a ham) is out of the can, you may freeze it. Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. At Sommers Market, we freeze all appropriate perishable products by the date on the package. (Adapted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)