How to Read Expiration Dates: 5 Terms and 7 Formats Explained - Does It Go Bad? (2024)

Not sure how to interpret the date on the label? You’re not alone.

Dating on food products is confusing, and how to go about what’s on the label is often not obvious.

That’s where this article comes in. In it, we go through the most popular terms and phrases and explain how to interpret various date formats.

Let’s start with the terms you can find on food labels.

How to Read Expiration Dates: 5 Terms and 7 Formats Explained - Does It Go Bad? (1)

Common Date Labeling Phrases and Terms

Themost common terms usedon food labels are:

  • Best Before (or Best if Used By).This date indicates how long the product is supposed to retain the best flavor or quality. It’s not a safety date, and most products sold with a best-by date keep quality way past that date.
  • Use-By.This is the date by when you should eat the food, as suggested by its manufacturer. Itdoesn’t mean the food is necessarily bad or unsafe to eat after that date, but you should be more cautious. Use-by dates are usually found on products with a fairly short storage time, like most dairy products. One caveat here: you shouldtreat the Use-By date on infant formula as a safety date.
  • Sell-By.This date informs the store how long to keep the food product on the shelves (or when to remove it). It’s aimed at retailers, not consumers. What’s more important to you as a buyer is that “typically one-third of a product’s shelf-life remains after the sell-by date for the consumer to use at home,” asexplained by the Institute of Food Technologists.
  • Freeze-By.This date informs you by when you should freeze the product to maintain peak quality. It’s way less popular than the other three.
  • Expiration Date (or EXP).This date isn’t widely used, but if it’s on your product, you should discard it after that date. While the terms above are vague guidelines,this one is absolute.

If you’re interested in learning more about these phrases, here’s a piece explaining the differences between food dates in more detail.

Now that we’ve covered the different terms and phrases you can find on food labels, let’s talk about date formats.

Date Formats

There are a couple of formats used for dating food products, and most of them are pretty easy to decipher. But there are also a few that are not.

Let’s go through all of them one by one.

(Need help decoding the date format? Check out our date code converter.)

MMDDYY (Standard US Format)

How to Read Expiration Dates: 5 Terms and 7 Formats Explained - Does It Go Bad? (2)

The standard US date format is MMDDYY. In this format, “MM” refers to the month, “DD” refers to the day of the month, and “YY” stands for the last two digits in the year. For example, 032927 means March 29, 2027.

Sometimes, the manufacturers put the “/” sign between parts for ease of reading so that that same date might look like 03/29/27.

DDMMYY (Standard European Format)

How to Read Expiration Dates: 5 Terms and 7 Formats Explained - Does It Go Bad? (3)

The standard date format in Europe is DDMMYY. In this format, “DD” refers to the day of the month, “MM” refers to the month, and “YY” stands for the last two digits in the year. For example, 120526 means May 12, 2026.

Oftentimes, the manufacturers put the “/” or “.” sign between parts for ease of reading so that that same date might look like this: 12.05.2026.

As you can tell, it’s pretty much the same format as the standard US one, except the month and day numbers are switched. That means in some rare cases that 120525 might not mean December 5 (if you interpret it using the standard US format), but May 12 (using the European format).

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell which is which unless one of the value pairs (MM or DD) is higher than 12. That’s when you know that part refers to the day of the month, and the other pair refers to the month. But if you’re in the US, chances are it’s the standard US format.

MMMDDYY (Month Abbreviated)

In this format, “MMM” refers to the abbreviated name of the month (say Feb for February), “DD” refers to the day in the month, and “YY” stands for the last two digits in the year. For example, Jan 12 26 means January 12, 2026.

Sometimes, the month and day parts are switched around (like in the European format), changing the phrasing to 12 Jan 26.

This format is obvious and easy to decipher, no matter if the month is the first or second part of the date.

DDMMM (Day and MonthAbbreviated)

This format combines the day of the month, represented by “DD”, with the abbreviated month name, denoted by “MMM” (e.g., Jan for January). An example would be 15 Nov, which translates to November 15.

This format is frequently paired with use-by dates for items with a brief storage duration. When a product’s shelf life spans just a week or two, specifying the year becomes redundant.

MMMYYYY (Month and Year)

How to Read Expiration Dates: 5 Terms and 7 Formats Explained - Does It Go Bad? (4)

Here, “MMM” stands for the abbreviated month name (like Aug for August), while “YYYY” indicates the full year. An example is Nov 2024, which means November 2024.

This intuitive format is common for products with extended shelf lives. Consider oats, which remain fresh for several months. The quality difference between the 15th and 30th day of the “expiration” month is negligible. As such, the day is omitted in this format. Thus, “Nov 2024” should be interpreted as “up to the end of November 2024”.

Sometimes, a slight variation of this format is used: MM.YYYY, where instead of the abbreviated name of the month, its number is used. There’s typically a dot between the parts for ease of reading.

Julian Date (3, 4, or 5 Digits)

The Julian date, or the Julian day, is a coding system frequently found on items likeeggs and canned goods. It’s represented by three to five digits. The last three digitsindicate the day of the year. For example, 156 corresponds to June 5th, marking it as the 156th day of the year.

When the code extends to four or five digits, the initial one or two digits denote the year. So, 3156 would be read as June 5, 2023, while 22156 signifies June 5, 2022.

To swiftly decode the three digits representing the date, you can refer tothis helpful Julian calendar.

A challenge with the three- or four-digit format is the ambiguity of the year. Taking 3156 as an example, the leading ‘3’ likely refers to 2023. However, if dealing with an older item, it could mean 2013. Conversely, for products with an extended shelf life, it might indicate 2033.

It’s worth noting that Julian date codes are typically not used to indicate storage durations. These are more commonly employed as lot numbers informing when the product was made and aiding manufacturers in future referencing.

A-L Letter and 2 Digits

This format, often used for lot numbers and other reference-type information, doesn’t typically pertain to food safety. Here, the month is denoted by a single letter: A for January, B for February, continuing up to L for December. This letter is followed by a two-digit representation of the day.

For instance, A15 translates to January 15, while L05 signifies December 5.

It’s worth noting that this is a relatively uncommon format, and there’s seldom a need to decode it in everyday situations.

Those are the most popular date formats used on food products. While most of them are quite straightforward, some are a bit difficult to decipher on the go (think the Julian code).

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How to Read Expiration Dates: 5 Terms and 7 Formats Explained - Does It Go Bad? (2024)


How do you read expiration date format? ›

The standard format is MMDDYY, where “MM” refers to the month, “DD” refers to the date, and “YY” refers to the year. So if a product says 101525, it means that the product expires on October 15, 2025. Is it safe to buy food on its expiration date? Generally speaking, yes, it is safe to buy food on its expiration date.

How do you read a 5 digit expiration date? ›

Look on the bottom or sides of the meal and find a string of five numbers in a row. The first two numbers stand for the year, while the last three numbers represent the day of the year. For example, if the code was 11322, you would know that the food was manufactured on the 322 day of 2011, or November 22nd, 2011.

What is the 7 digit expiration date? ›

Packaged food items sometimes have “Julian Dates” stamped on them that represent the packing date. These dates are 3-7 digits long, and are calculated differently from JD used in astronomy. Common locations for these numbers include the sides of cartons or the bottom of cans.

How do you read different date formats? ›

The United States is one of the few countries that use “mm-dd-yyyy” as their date format–which is very very unique! The day is written first and the year last in most countries (dd-mm-yyyy) and some nations, such as Iran, Korea, and China, write the year first and the day last (yyyy-mm-dd).

How do you read date format? ›

In traditional American usage, dates are written in the month–day–year order (e.g. May 6, 2024) with a comma before and after the year if it is not at the end of a sentence and time in 12-hour notation (3:37 pm).

What is the pattern for expiration date? ›

Expiration date format should be read as YYYY-MM-DD.

How to read a 7 digit Julian date? ›

Looking for the correct formula to convert a 7-digit julian date (e.g. 2023015) form a field to convert into a MM/DD/YYYY Date format. The first 4 characters of the Julian date (2023) represents the year and the last 3 characters represents the day of the year (15th day of January) or 01/15/2023.

What is the interpretation of expiration date? ›

An expiration date is the last day that a consumable product such as food or medicine will be at its best quality, according to the manufacturer.

What is the format for 7 digit date? ›

The 7-digit Julian date (yyyyddd) would be calculated as the number of days past (ddd) in that year (yyyy). If you are sure that the number is Julian date, then the code that you are using would give appropriate results. The following are some samples that I have taken to convert 7-digit Julian dates to calender dates.

How to read the batch code? ›

A typical batch number would be similar to AGT-M10000. The batch code consists of 6 digits and utilizes the Julian Date, the last digit of the year of manufacture, the production line, and the production shift. Example: 036521 036 = The thirty sixth day of the year, in this case February 5th.

How to decipher lot code? ›

How to Read Lot Numbers
  1. The first two digits (18) is the year of manufacture (2018)
  2. The next two digits (02) is the month of manufacture (February)
  3. The next two digits (20) is the day of the month of manufacture (20th)
  4. The next digit (6) is our inter-company plant number.
Feb 19, 2018

How do I decode an expiration date? ›

Match an all-numerical code with a “month, day, year” sequence. If the code you're reading is comprised of 6 digits, it most likely is a month-day-year code. Read these codes as MMDDYY, where “MM” refers to the month, “DD” refers to the date, and “YY” refers to the year.

How to read lot number expiration date? ›

The first number is the third digit of the year the product was made. The next two numbers represent the day of the month the product was made. The next number represents the last digit of the year the product was made. The next two digits represent the month the earliest expiring component expires.

How do you read the expiration date on dots? ›

The first two digits identify the week, and the second two identify the year. Imagine a DOT Date Code reading '2321'. The first two numbers, '23', indicate the week of manufacture, while the last two numbers, '21', represent the year.

How do they write expiration dates? ›

This often appears as codes that consist of a series of letters and/or numbers applied by manufacturers to identify the date and time of production, appearing as MMDDYY. For example, "112922" would be read as November 29, 2022.

What does exp 03/24 mean? ›

Over-the-counter medicines like aspirin, cough syrup, and herbal products have an expiration date, often abbreviated EXP followed by a month and year. This indicates the date after which the manufacturer does not guarantee the potency or effectiveness of the product.

What is the format for card expiration date? ›

It is in a 2-digit MM/YY format, such as 11/26 for November 2026. Usually, the final day you can use the card for purchases is the last day of the month. So, in our example, that would be November 30, 2026. Online merchants usually ask for your card's expiration date during the purchase process.


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