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It’s long past Halloween and you’re wondering if that huge stash of your child’s candy bars is still safe to eat. Or it’s the next Halloween and you’re wondering if you can give out last year’s candy. Wonder no more. Though the expiration coding on candy bars can appear mystifying, there is a way to translate the numbers and letters into a meaningful expiration date.

Look at the Candy Bar

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Candy bars will either have a comprehensible “Best By” date or a numbered code on their package. Look at the candy bar first. If you see a date, such as “August 2010” or “10 Aug” then that’s the “Best By” date, not the date when it was produced.

If there is nothing that resembles a date, but instead a string of characters, some detective work will be in order.

M&Ms and Mars

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On the candy bars of these companies, you’ll find a 10-digit line of numbers and letters that looks like it doesn’t mean anything. It does, but you only need to worry about the first three numbers. To read it, look at the first number. This stands for the last number in a year. A “9” means 2009; a “zero” means 2010; a “1” means 2011.

Look at the two numbers following. These stand for which week of the year it was manufactured. If the first three numbers are 106, this means it expires in the sixth week of the year, or in the middle of February 2011. The candy has a shelf life of approximately one year.

Hershey's

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Again, there is a code stamped somewhere on the candy bar. Hershey’s usually places this at the end. The code consists of a number and a letter.

The number corresponds to the year. Thus a 1 represents 2011. The letter corresponds to the month. “A” is January, “B” is February, “C” is March, and so on until December. A code of 1L means that the product is good until December 2011.

Chocolate Blooms

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Sometimes, dark or milk chocolate will turn white or tan. There is no cause for alarm, says Hershey’s. This occurs when the temperature rises above 75 degrees F, causing the melting. Then the cocoa butter may appear on the chocolate top, causing “cocoa bloom.” If there is moisture in the air and condensation on the chocolate, the sugars may go to the surface, causing “sugar bloom.” This won’t hurt the eater, but the taste may be off because it won’t be mixed well anymore.

Storing Candy Bars

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Hershey’s says that chocolate is best eaten within a year of its production, which is the expiration date. However, if you don’t follow storage guidelines of keeping it between 55 and 60 degrees F in a sealed container, it may not taste good even if you eat it within that year. Nuts or other ingredients shorten the shelf life as well.

Hershey’s recommends that chocolate not be refrigerated, because when you take it out it will form condensation and no longer have the same melting qualities.

About the Author

Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway's debut novel, "How to be an American Housewife," is out now and her second, "The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns," will be published in August 2012. She has been a writer for more than 10 years and has written for publications such as "San Diego Family Magazine" and the Huffington Post. Dilloway holds a B.A. from Scripps College.