by Christie Tham July 04, 2021 4 min read

The food labels on our pet’s food are our number one defence against expired food and degraded nutritional quality. But different products present the same information differently - in fact, products from America present dates differently from the rest of the world! Let’s take a look at how to read these expiration dates!

Reading the Label

Many products contain nutrients like vitamin B and C that will degrade over time, especially if they’re not stored properly. To ensure your pup gains the maximum nutritional benefit they can from their diet, make sure to check the expiration date on your pet’s food! Best By - This refers to the period of time when the product is at peak freshness/effectiveness. After this date, the food can still be eaten as long as it still smells, looks good and has been properly stored. Sell By - Sell-by dates are mostly for retailers. But as a rule of thumb, most products with this label are safe for at least 7-10 days after the sell-by date. Make sure to use your pet’s food before then! Use By - Use-by dates are a lot stricter than the above. Do not use food products that have gone past a use-by date.

How To Read Expiration Dates on Pet Food Labels

Source: Gentle Dog Trainers

Understanding Expiry Dates

Depending on where a product is from, the dates may be displayed in a different way. In most countries, dates are typically written in the “DD-MM-YYYY” format. However, American products will often list dates in the “MM-DD-YYYY” format. Another potential format you may find is the “YYYY-MM-DD” format. This last format is more common in Canada.

Closed Coded Labels

Product labels are also used to sort goods in manufacturing. They use a different system of labelling, but these numbers and letters can also help you understand a product’s shelf life. One way is using Letters from “A” to “L” to represent months, January being “A” and December being “L”. Together with this letter, you may see a set of numbers that indicate the day and year of manufacturing. For instance “D1617” would read as 16th April 2017. Another is to use 1-9 to indicate the months from January to September. They then use the first letter in October, November and December. This gives you “D0519” representing 5th December 2019. Product labels also use 6 digit date codes that use either the MMDDYY or YYMMDD format. For instance, “101418” can be read as 14 October 2018. Less common than the above is the use of the Julian Calendar. This means that rather than putting a full date on the product, they may use a number between 001 to 365 - with 001 representing 1st January and 365 representing 31st December. Hence a code that says “213” would refer to 1st August. To help you better understand how to read expiry dates, here are three of our favourite American products and how you can interpret the expiration dates for each of them!

How To Read Expiration Dates on Pet Food Labels

Farmland Traditions’ Dogs Love Pork Jerky Dog Treats

This delicious all-american dog treat comes with a clear expiration date. The label “Best Used By” indicates that this treat is freshest before the given date, although it can still be consumed after this date, to a reasonable degree. Since this product is American, the date format can be read in the “MM-DD-YYYY” format, indicating that this specific bag of treats should be used before 1st January 2022.

How To Read Expiration Dates on Pet Food Labels

Northwest Naturals Freeze Dried Turkey Neck Cat & Dog Treats

Similarly, this tasty single-ingredient treat made in the US has a clear expiration date printed at the back. Since it’s an American brand, the date also follows the “MM-DD-YYYY” format and will be read as 8th December 2022. This product also has D-9 written at the back of the expiration date. This is a closed code that indicates that the product was manufactured on 9th December.

How To Read Expiration Dates on Pet Food Labels

Grandma Lucy's Pumpkin Pouch Cat & Dog Supplement

With a much simpler expiration date label pasted on the back of the product, we can see the use-by date is labelled “052022”. In this case, this product must not be used after 20th May 2022, following the “MMDDYY” format present in most American products.

Outside of expiration dates, food labels can help you find out a lot about a product. For more information on how to read the detailed nutritional labels on your pet’s food, check out this GDP article! To make things easier for you, Curious Cat People also lists important details like ingredient lists and FDA guaranteed analysis on every product.

How To Read Expiration Dates on Pet Food Labels

Keeping track of expiration dates can be tricky, with so many types of display formats. However, understanding a product’s country of origin can help greatly. Your furry friend will be feasting on a fresh dinner in no time!

How To Read Expiration Dates on Pet Food Labels 















Tammi Chng  TAMMI CHNG
Tammi writes articles about anything from data analytics to animal health, and loves doing the occasional craft. But most importantly, she loves hanging out and doing photo-shoots with her dog. 

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