Cracking the Code: How to Always Get the Freshest Loaf of Bread at the Grocery Store

How to Always Get the Freshest Loaf of Bread at the Grocery Store

The bread at your local supermarket will most likely always be fresh, but how do you know which loaf is the freshest out of the bunch? You can squeeze and inspect them like an annoying TSA agent, but there's actually a much simpler way to do it.

I used to just inspect the bread I bought by checking out the "sell by date," then expect it to last about a week or so after that. Now, in addition to checking the sell by date, I also look at the bread tags more closely to see just how fresh those yeasty delights really are.

Image via imgur.com

Cracking the Bread Tag Color Codes

Most bread makers use a color code to help indicate when the loaf was actually baked, which makes it easy for store employees to know at a glance what bread needs to be removed and replaced, that way they don't have to look at the sell by date on every loaf individually.

  • Blue: Monday
  • Green: Tuesday
  • Red: Thursday
  • White: Friday
  • Yellow: Saturday

Now, this code is not universal, meaning that some colors may mean different days for different companies, from state to state, and some companies do not even use a color code system, like most supermarkets who bake their own bread.

But, more often than not, the five colors listed above will be present on bread bags, either on the tags or printed as text on the bag itself, especially when the plastic is tightly sealed with no clip, as with some Oroweat rye breads.

What Do the Printed Dates Mean Exactly?

Also on some of the tags are dates, which usually signifies when that bread should be removed from the shelves or sold by. Now, that doesn't mean your bread will go bad on that date, it's just the bread manufacturer's suggestion for removing the item and replacing it with a fresher delivery.

Image via staticflickr.com

If the date is printed on the bag itself, it usually comes with one of the labels listed below to what that date actually means.

Types of Expiration Dates on Bread

Needless to say, this whole labeling system is confusing as hell, ultimately leading to a serious amount of food waste in America. Each state has their own labeling rules and there isn't a national standard enforced by the FDA, USDA, or any other government regulator.

Actually, both the FDA and USDA don't require any type of expiration dates at all on bread (or any other food). But, there is a definitive definition of what those dates should mean.

  • Sell-By: This date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • Best if Used By (or Before): This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • Use-By: This 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: Packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

I think the government kneads to figure this shit out, because the FDA has a lot of dough to work with.

Bread tags image via Make, Diagram image via Wise Bread, Bread tag date via Amy/Flickr, Rye bread image via Oroweat

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