Have you ever had that experience when you get to the stores to purchase some food products and you cannot really tell whether they are good enough to still be on the shelf, or you want to take them home but you are not sure whether they will last you long enough? It can be so frustrating. It gets worse when there are attendants at the store who you think can help you out, but they are in a worse situation than you are. It is wise to question the freshness of anything that you purchase from the store, and when you come to think about it, this will be one of the most sensible decisions you ever made.

Did you know that the expiration dates normally refer to the freshness and the quality of the food, and it has nothing to do with the safety of the food? Sounds weird, huh? What this implies is that you can actually buy something at the store that has been on the shelf past the expiration date indicated on the package, but it could still be so safe to eat. As a customer there are four different things that you have to be aware of whenever you go to the store to buy anything. Let’s look at these in detail:

Sell by date – This date is never meant for you, but for the store. The purpose is to indicate to the store for how long the product should stay on the shelves. To ensure freshness, it is recommended that you purchase the produce before the date passes.

Best before/by – This is normally meant for the customer. It gives an indication of when the product you are about to purchase is at its best condition in terms of freshness. However, it does not in any way guarantee you the safety of the product. As with the sell by date, purchasing and usage before this date gives you a good shot at quality consumption.

Use by – This date is a bit different from the others. This is because it gives you an indication of when the product’s quality will start deteriorating with respect to the flavor and the quality. However, it also offers no guarantee on the safety of the product. If you consume the product a few days after this date, it will not kill you either, but you might suffer some discomfort with your digestive system.

Coded dates – These are also referred to as closed dates. They are serial numbers that are used to track products especially when they are being shipped. There is a lot of information that these codes hold, from the time when the container was filled up, the place of manufacture and so forth. In most cases you will come across a code like 58J87 March 12, 2014. When you come across this, it is recommended that you interpret such dates to be use-by dates.

So the next time you are at the store trying to figure out whether or not something should still be on the shelf, or if you should purchase it, think along these lines and save yourself a lot of time and stomach discomfort.