If you're going to invest your time and energy into creating and stocking a pantry, you're going to have to learn about best before dates. I hit mine around the age of 34, but that's neither here nor there!
We don't have a universal code in Canada. Every food manufacturer has their own tracking system, and the stamped numbers make absolutely no sense to the purchaser. So, I contacted some of them to get the answers.
Primo: never returned my email or phone inquiry.
Unico: Their canned tomatoes have a 2 year shelf life. Example: If the can reads CR25206, the tomatoes would expire 252 days into 2008
Compliments: This is a Sobey's or IGA company. Their canned fruit has a 3 year shelf life. Example: If the can reads LIP 237 The middle letter is I=2006 J=2007 K=2008 237=237th day of the year.
Quaker Oats/Aunt Jemima (all owned by Pepsi): By far the most helpful company I talked with. Most of their products have a 1 year shelf life from the manufactured date. Granola bars only 6 months. Example: 01 23 P 8 The first set of numbers is the month, second set is the day, the letter represents the facility where it was manufactured and the last number is the year.
Allen's Apple Juice: 1.2 L tins have a 547 day shelf life. Example: R81207 1500 338 J The expiry date would be 2008, 12th month, 7th day, 15:00 hour. At 3:00 all hell breaks loose!
General Mills: They have 3 separate coding systems. One is a best before date stamped which is used for refrigerated dough products - nothing that I would/could stock anyway.
For Pillsbury branded products, all Green Giant and Old El Paso brand proudcts the code can be interpreted as follows: C6FT25D
The first letter stands for the month (C=March)
The next number stands for the year (6=2006)
The next 2 to 4 letters stand for the manufacturing facility
The next 2 letters stand for the day of the month (25)
The letter code for each month is as follows: A to L (January to December)
For all other brands including General Mills, Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Bugles, Nature Valley, etc. the manufacturing code appears as follows: D615RB6
The first letter stands for the month
The next number stands for the year (6 = 2006)
The next 2 numbers stands for the day of the month (15)
The next 2 letters stand for the manufacturing facility.
The last digits stand for the time of day or the system the product was produced on.
Most Campbell's soups have an easy to read best before date - usually 2+ years.
I have noticed that I have a better chance of buying "older" product from a discount grocery chain. I've had challenges with the high-end grocery stores too though. It's much easier for me to keep track now because we buy cases of items. I'll take my 3x5 deciphering code card to the store to make sure I'm getting "new" product. Once we're home, I write the best before date in simple language right on the case.
We'll continue with this system until I can grow and can the bulk of our food....in the meantime...buyer beware!