DEAR SUN SPOTS: Can you please give me some information on the dates found on cans of food?

Some cans say “Best by” Dec. 2015, for instance. Can this food be okay to eat after this date? Maybe a month after? Another can says, “June 2014.” I guess this one would not be okay to eat. Some other cans just say “June 26, 2015,” for example. Does that date mean the contents were put in the can on that day, or don not eat this can of food after this date? Most of the cans are soup or pasta. Does it make a difference if it is a can of meat? Thank you. — Walter Hill, Chesterville.

ANSWER: Since safety was on the line, Sun Spots turned to an expert — Dr. Jason Bolton, a professor and food safety specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Dr. Bolton said there is no universally accepted food dating system in the U.S., so some of the information you see printed on those cans is situational depending on the product and the company who produced it. Dating cans is actually a voluntary practice in this country, and some manufacturers don’t even perform shelf-life studies to determine how long a product will last, which Dr. Bolton always recommends.

It can be difficult to know exactly what the dates on a can actually mean. Words appearing on cans like “best if used by” are freshness dates, meaning that the can’s contents have the best quality before that date, however, they may still be edible and safe for consumption. Dr. Bolton said potentially hazardous foods, such as meats, fish, dairy and eggs have expiration dates or use by dates on them, and that those dates are still quality related. The words “sell by” on a can are really more for the retailer to know when they should no longer sell the product, and again, this is quality related. Other times, the dates on a can are either a production date of an expiration code. Most commercially canned — not the jars of canned veggies from mom’s garden sitting on the shelf in the pantry —  have a two-year shelf life if stored properly. This means the cans should have been stored in a low-humidity environment at temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold.

When in doubt, it’s probably safest to err on the side of caution where food is concerned. Dr. Bolton said anyone is welcome to contact him for additional information. He can be reached  by emailing [email protected], or by mailing him at 5735 Hitchner Hall, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: The Sun Journal states that if you sign up for their Membership Advantage Program, one of the offers is for  a monthly drawing for tickets to various events. Are these drawings actually done? We never see a posting on who wins, and it would be nice to know if their are winners.

ANSWER: There are actual drawings that take place each month, and the winners are notified personally by email.

Use the QR code to go to Sun Spots online for additional information and links. This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can be emailed to [email protected], tweeted @SJ_SunSpots or posted on the Sun Spots Facebook page at This column can also be read online at We’ve joined Pinterest at

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