A friend got this from Consumer Reports and I wanted to share it: The Dating Game It's breakfast time, and you're craving a cheese omelette. Your carton of eggs says, “EXPFEB12”; the cheddar says, “Use by Feb. 23”; the milk says, “Sell by March 1.” It’s March 4. Can you safely scramble, or should you switch to cereal, which is telling you “Best if used by 3-5”? If you're unsure, you're not alone. The boxes, cans, and cartons in our kitchens are trying to tell us something, but we may not be getting the message. Except for poultry, infant formula, and some baby food, product dating is not required by the federal government, but more than 20 states mandate dating of some foods. When dates are applied, generally by the manufacturer and occasionally by the store, they're stated in a variety of ways: You might see Nov. 25, 11-25, or 1125. The terms used are somewhat flexible, too, since there's no standard. Here, words to the wise about the words on foods: “Use by,” “best if used by,“ or “quality assurance” date: The last date the product is likely to be at peak flavor and quality. One of these dates is often placed on foods such as cereal, which may decline in flavor and quality. It doesn't mean the food is unsafe after that date. “Sell by” or “pull”: An indication, to the retailer, of the last day on which a product should be sold. It takes into account time for the food to be stored and used at home. You should buy it before the date, but don't have to use it by then. You should be able to use milk, say, for up to about seven days after the sell-by date. Pack or package date: The date the food--fresh meat, for example--was packed or processed. Consumers can tell which package is fresher and choose that one. A pack date isn't an indication of safety. “Expiration”: For most foods, this indicates the last date on which they should be eaten or used. Eggs are an exception: If you buy federally graded eggs before the expiration date (which must be no more than 30 days from when they were put in the carton), you should be able to use them safely for the next 3 to 5 weeks. “Born on”: Initiated by Anheuser-Busch, it's supposed to let buyers choose the freshest beer. According to the company, its beer is freshest and tastes best within 110 days from the born-on date. Coded date: A series of letters or numbers or both used by the manufacturer to track foods across state lines and, if necessary, recall them. The code isn't meant as a use-by date. Other words to the wise: As a rule, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes can be stored on the shelf for 12 to 18 months; properly stored low-acid canned foods such as meat, fish, and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years. Don't use a can that's bulging. If perishable foods are packaged and frozen properly, they will be safe to eat after the expiration date, although the food may suffer freezer burn if it's stored for a long time. And if a food bears a date without words? Unfortunately, you'll have to guess what it means.