Understanding Can Codes

Cracking the Code

Cans must exhibit a packing code to allow tracking of the product in interstate commerce. This enables manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as to locate their products in the event of a recall. These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers, might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They are not meant for the consumer to interpret as "use-by" dates.

Cans may also display "open" or calendar dates. Typically, these are "best if used by" dates for peak quality. In general, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple will retain best quality on the shelf for 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will retain best quality on the shelf for two to five years if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, dry place.

Visit USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service on Food Product Dating for additional information about can codes.