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Why Are There Numbers On My Milk?

What Does That Date Mean?

When you look at a container that holds a dairy product, you will usually see a date on it. That date often has the words "sell by" or "use by" before it. What does that mean? How are they different? And what else can you learn from a dairy product's label?

"Sell By" versus "Use By"

Dairy products, like many fresh foods, do not last forever. Louis Pasteur discovered a way to make them last longer. But there will come a time when fresh foods will spoil if not used. Producers provide consumers with some help understanding this when they label packages.

Sell By is meant for people who work in the stores. It tells them how long a product should be in the store. A sell-by date does not mean you have to use the product by the date. It will be safe for some days after the sell-by date.

Use By tells us when the product should be used up. It does not always mean the product will go bad right on that day. It is more about the overall quality of the product. After the use-by date, the quality will start to decline. Safety could be decreased as well. If you see a product in your fridge that is close to its use-by date, it should be used soon.

What Else is on the Label?

You might even be able to find your farmer on the product label. There are many milk and dairy products that are produced and processed in Minnesota. You can visit this website: Where Is My Milk From to trace many dairy products right to the dairy or farm where they were produced. To find the farm, you will need to become a detective and find the right clues.

To locate the farm, you will need to look for a special code that is often — but not always — on the dairy product packaging. These numbers are usually printed toward the top of the product, or on the label. The code always starts with two numbers. Then there is a dash, followed by more numbers. There may be anywhere from one to five numbers after the dash. (Hint: If you see numbers with a colon rather than a dash, you have not found the right code yet.) Sometimes the letters PLT appear before the code. PLT is an abbreviation for plant, like dairy plant. Once you find your code, visit the website above to enter it. Then you will get to meet your farmer!

For another way to meet your farmer, click on the videos below to learn about many Minnesota dairy farmers.

How Minnesota Farmers Feed Us

Kuball Dairy Farm

Dorrich Dairy Farm

Vander Kooi Dairy Farm

Redhead Creamery: How to Raise Calves into Milk-Producing Cows

Redhead Creamery: Caring for Cows

AgK - Plant Animal or Both