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Is it legal for grocery stores to sell expired food in the United States?

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  • anecdotal but growing up in NJ I used to regularly go to two different stores whose entire business was selling food past the expiration date. One was specifically for pepperidge farms products and another was a more generalized store we affectionately referred to as the "used food store".
    – jesse_b
    Apr 5 at 11:27
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    @jesse_b and I remember that Sunbeam bakery had a store for recently expired bread, and there was a "Salvage" store which sold dented and expired canned goods.
    – RonJohn
    Apr 6 at 14:33

2 Answers 2

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The website for Cleveland Clinic presents some useful information:

You’ll see dates on many perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. But you might be surprised to learn that they aren’t usually about food safety.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, manufacturers put “best by” or “best if used by” dates on their products to let retail stores and consumers know how long their products are expected to maintain their best taste and texture.

These dates aren’t required by federal law (though some states require them) and don’t necessarily indicate a product’s safety (with the exception of baby formula). In fact, perishable products are usually safe to consume beyond their “best by” date if they’ve been handled and stored properly.

I think an aspect of this information is that "some states require them." This would suggest that if you need specific answers to legality, the desired state should be provided in your question.

Other information on the web site covers individual food types and best practices, not legal considerations.

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    It's not clear that "some states require them" simply means those dates need to be displayed, or whether it also disallows selling beyond the marked date. arp's answer is more complete in this respect. Apr 4 at 7:20
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    Just for interest, in my country we have a two-tier system: "Best before" for foods which remain safe to eat (but perhaps less attractive) and "Use by" for those that may become harmful after the specified date. Apr 4 at 7:24
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    Same as Toby Speight said in my country. Also, I question the accuracy of the quote that says the dates on meat and poultry aren't usually for health purposes. These would always have "Use By" dates in my country, but perhaps not in Cleveland, and I wonder if that quoted guide is confusing the difference between the two. Personally I would distrust everything that article says based on inaccuracy of the first paragraph and the likely confusion caused by conflating that with the second paragraph which is accurate in and of itself.
    – Eric Nolan
    Apr 4 at 20:11
  • "Best buy" dates and expiration dates are totally separate things, so this doesn't answer the question. Apr 5 at 22:41
  • @TobySpeight It's the same in the US. This answer is wrong. Apr 5 at 22:41
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The rules are apparently set state by state.

In Georgia, it is illegal to sell these items past their printed expiration dates:

  • Milk
  • Refrigerated Milk Products
  • Eggs
  • Infant Formula
  • Fresh shellfish (such as oysters, clams, and mussels)
  • Any "potentially hazardous" foods that must be kept refrigerated

(Source: Georgia Department of Agriculture.)

Texas points out that sell-by dates are a Federal requirement for infant formula, to ensure nutrition matches labels:

The expiration dates on packaged dry foods are voluntarily provided by the manufacturers. [And are not legally meaningful if the food is not otherwise unwholesome.] The only exemption would be infant formula. Dating of infant formula is a federal regulation. Source: Texas Department of Health and Human Services

Presumably at least some other states have similar laws: Florida: milk and baby formula ; Michigan: milk and perishable foods (though I tried to verify this myself in the state law code and was unable to.)

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