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How to Read Codes on Canned Foods

author image Jill Lee
Jill Lee has been working as a Web writer since 2007. Her favorite topics include fitness, nutrition, pets, gardening and technology. She also works as a medical transcriptionist. Lee is currently pursuing a degree in health information management at Western Nebraska Community College.
How to Read Codes on Canned Foods
A young couple is reading the labels on cans at a grocery store. Photo Credit: JackF/iStock/Getty Images

While there is no standard system for coding on canned foods, many companies use similar codes to track their products. Learning to read the most commonly used codes that refer to dates helps ensure your canned foods are fresh and safe to eat. Some canned foods include a noncoded “use by” date stamped on the can or label. For those that don’t, you can often find a coded date stamped on the top or bottom of the can.

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Step 1

Look at the first number or letter of the code. Numbers 1 through 9 often represent the months January through September, in order. The letter “O” usually stands for October, “N” represents November and “D” stands for December on many cans. Some companies list the month after the date, so look elsewhere in the code for letters as well.

Step 2

Match letters other than "O" and "N" with months by assigning each month, January through December, a letter from "A" to "L" in alphabetical order. Some companies use this form of coding to represent months. Be careful when interpreting these codes if you need to be sure about the month. "D" could stand for April or December, depending on the coding system used by the manufacturer.

Step 3

Decipher numbers to determine the day and year. Many companies use a two-digit number following the first number of the code for the date and a one-digit number for the year. The year number is usually the last number of the year. For example, 2011 would have a year number of 1.

Step 4

Determine the Julian date that would correspond with the code if the numbers don’t make sense in the context of month, date and year, or if you know the manufacturer uses Julian dates in its codes. The Julian date is the day of the year. For example, Jan. 1 would be 1 and Feb. 10 would be 41 if a Julian date is used.

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