Food Safety at Grocery Outlet

Grocery Outlet takes food safety very seriously.  There’s a lot of confusion over the various types of food dating, so we wanted to provide our customers with some solid information about food dating and safety.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are the primary government agencies that monitor food safety in the United States.  Our information comes directly from the USDA website.  Click here to read more.

What is Food Dating?

"Open Dating" (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a future date stamped on a product's package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. It is not a safety date.  

Is Dating Required by Federal Law?
Except for infant formula and some baby food, product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations. 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."  There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States.

So if there’s no uniform labeling system, what can we know about food dates?

Retail Dates
These dates are created for the retailer’s benefit: to provide a guideline as to when the retailer should display and sell the product.
  • Sell-By date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. For optimal quality, you should buy the product before the date expires.
  • Closed or coded dates are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.  They help the retailer know how long to display the product.

Consumer Dates

These dates tell the consumer the ideal window in which to consume the product for the best quality.  It is important to note that they are not purchase or safety dates.  The best way to gauge a product for safety is to observe it: if it smells, tastes, or looks spoiled, do not consume it.
  • Use-By (or Best If Used By) 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.  It is not a purchase or safety date.

What does Grocery Outlet do to ensure our safety?

At Grocery Outlet, we maintain our refrigeration systems to always be at or below 40 degrees.  We use the best food handling practices to ensure that what you buy at our stores is safe to eat.  We pull ALL fresh meat, dairy products, refrigerated food, eggs, natural/organic products, salads, and thaw-and-sell items AT their “Best If Used By” date.

Some items, including soft-ripened cheeses, non-dairy creamers, dough products, juices, and smoked salmon are pulled 7 days after their “Best If Used By” date, because they are still safe to eat.  All other product (shelf-stable grocery) must be pulled no later than 30 days past the “Best If Used By” date.  All of our stores must be in strict compliance to this policy.  We constantly monitor perishables for any sign of spoilage.

Is a product safe to use if the date has expired?
"Use-by" dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if it has been handled properly.  The best way to determine if a food is safe is to use your senses: if a food has developed an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria, you should not use it.

Grocery Outlet always keeps our refrigeration systems in compliance with USDA recommendations.  Below are our degree ranges, for each type of perishable food:

Type of Food Degrees Fahrenheit
Ice Cream -15 to -7 degrees
Frozen foods -10 to 0 degrees
Dairy 32 to 36 degrees
Deli Meats 32 to 36 degrees
Fresh Meat 29 to 35 degrees
Dairy, Walk-In Storage 34 to 40 degrees
Frozen, Walk-In -20 to -10 degrees

How can I keep my food safe to eat?

We recommend you use these USDA tips for safe food storage:
  • If perishable, take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly. Freeze it if you can't use it within the times recommended on the chart below.
  • Freeze it.  Frozen food should be safe indefinitely if your freezer is functioning properly.
  • Follow handling recommendations on product packaging.
  • Keep refrigerator at 40 °F or below for fresh or uncooked products
  • If product has a "use-by" date, note that food should still be at optimal quality by this date.  It is not an expiration date.
  • If product has a "sell-by" date or no date, it is recommended to cook or freeze the product by the times on the following charts.

Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products
Product Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Meat & Ground Poultry 1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef, or Turkey, uncooked 1 or 2 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks


Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant
Processed Product Unopened, After Purchase After Opening
Cooked Poultry 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Cooked Sausage 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable 6 weeks in pantry 3 weeks
Cooked Beef, uncooked, in pouch with juices 5 to 7 days 3 to 4 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners 2 weeks 3 to 4 days
Bacon 2 weeks 7 days
Hot Dogs 2 weeks 1 week
Luncheon Meat 2 weeks 3 to 5 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days slices - 3 days, whole - 7 days
Ham, canned, shelf-stable 2 years in pantry 3 to 5 days
Ham, canned, labeled "keep refrigerated" 9 months 3 to 4 days
Canned Meat & Poultry, shelf-stable 2 to 5 years in pantry

3 to 4 days


(source: usda.gov)