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Check the dates for food on Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is probably the most popular date night of the year. Romance and special dinners fill the bill either at home or at a restaurant. A different kind of dating is useful when it comes to food safety—food product dating.

While people can enjoy dinner with their “dates,” there are also several types of dates that directly pertain to the food itself.

  • A “Sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. The product should be purchased before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality; it is not a purchase or safety date.
  • 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.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always pertain to home storage and use after purchase. “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 handled properly. If foods are mishandled, however, foodborne bacteria can grow and, if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness – before or after the date on the package. The handling and preparation on the label should be followed to ensure top quality and safety.

Take food safety to heart and don’t let foodborne illness cause your date to expire. You can prevent foodborne illness from ruining your night by following these four basic messages of safe food preparation.

Clean: Clean bacteria away by washing your hands before and after handling food, before eating, after a visit to the restroom, after contact with animals or pets, and after coughing, sneezing, or nose wiping. Thoroughly wash and rinse utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with soap and hot water. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking.

Separate: Separate yourself from sickness by keeping raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood (and their juices) away from other foods. At the grocery store, separate these foods from other items in the shopping cart. Place them in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other food and potentially spreading harmful bacteria. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.

Cook: Keep bacteria from crashing your party by using a food thermometer. Since color and temperature are unreliable indicators of safety, using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products. These foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria.

  • Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
  • Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F.
  • Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.

Chill: Maintain a healthy relationship with your leftovers. Either eat them within two hours of arriving home or refrigerate them promptly. Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that the temperature of the refrigerator is 40 °F or below and the temperature of the freezer is 0 °F or below. Perishable food should be thawed in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or in cold water and never on the counter or in hot water. Perishable foods should be frozen if they cannot be consumed within recommended storage times. 

By following these four basic messages, you and your date will be safer, healthier, and have a better opportunity to avoid foodborne illness.    

Questions? Ask Karen, USDA’s virtual food safety representative, is available 24/7 at AskKaren.gov. Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)

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