As a Justmeans staff writer for the Sustainable Foods editorial department, I explore the disparity between consumerism and independence through the topic of sustainability. As a self-described 'urban homesteader' I look to find the balance between a sustainable lifestyle and use of corporate convenience. I don't necessarily want to live without electricity, but I want to be comfortable if eve...
Food Safety: Making Sense of Poultry Labels
We all know that labeling food properly is key to food safety, but maybe some of us are a little confused to what the food labeling actually means. Only half of the safety is performed if it's labeled correctly, but not understood by the consumer as to what it means.
The FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service), part of the USDA periodically writes articles to help consumers navigate the food safety system. As meats are a primary concern in today's consumer landscape, an article which was recently updated (August, 2010) can be found here: Labeling Compliance Policy Guide on Poultry Food Product Dating in PDF form.
Here's how it goes: There are three possible dates available on any package of poultry (much of this is taken directly from the FSIS website and report):
- A "Packing Date" is either expressed in a code (closed date) or a calendar (open date) and is provided by the meat packing company. This date is not always consistent with slaughter dates, though it is assumed that slaughter and packing should often take place on the same day.
- A "Sell-By" date indicates the date by which the product should be sold but not necessarily consumed, assuming the post-purchase handling is kept safe, for instance, kept at under 40ºF. It is suggested by the FSIS to consume poultry products within 1-2 days after purchase.
- A "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date; similarly, a "Use-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.
In the report there are five pages of Frequently Asked Questions. Here are two:
6. Question: Can a "sell-by" or "use-by" date be used in lieu of the "required date of packing"?
Answer: Yes, in accordance with longstanding FSIS policy, "sell-by" or "use- by" dating can be used in lieu of pack dates on poultry food products.
7. Question: How does the "sell-by" or "use-by" date correspond with the pack date?
Answer: There is no single, numerical correlation between the pack date and other dates placed on labeling. Manufacturers must determine these dated based
on the length of time that their product will remain wholesome.
One should note that these rules are exclusively for poultry packing and selling. Other rules apply for other products, so it's easy to see how it can get confusing for the consumer. And labeling can be tricky business. If you are unable to source locally raised, farmer-accountable poultry and you can't live without it, then it's probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with the FSIS to make sure the food you are purchasing is not only understood, but handled and prepared with care. The safety of the food you feed your family depends on it.
Photo credit: recipetips.com
(note: there is no correlation between this poultry producer and this article; the image has been used simply to illustrate a meat label.)