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I bought a bottle of juice today, and the "Best Before" date it's "11 MA 23". I always see "MA" as for March, but the store staff said that was May.

What is your opinion?

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14  
That they should use MAR or MAY. And if that one character is so very important, then MR or MY if not the number 03 or 05. MA is much too ambiguous to be of use to the consumer. –  snumpy Apr 18 '11 at 14:21
20  
What's two months, give or take, if the year is 2023? (2123? 5823?) –  RegDwigнt Apr 18 '11 at 14:37
2  
@roe: but where's the fun in that? (My whole point is that the date is ambiguous in more than one way.) –  RegDwigнt Apr 18 '11 at 15:08
5  
@jasper most languages that use March/May use latin months so they are very similar. The irony here is that we often use the word for months to avoid the AE/BE ambiguity of which order the date and month go in! –  mgb Apr 18 '11 at 16:15
8  
Just drink it. If you live, it meant May. –  Jason Swett Apr 19 '11 at 13:41
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4 Answers

up vote 35 down vote accepted

Looks like the store staff was right, MA=May. This is from an answer to a similar question on a Canadian website:

Ah, I love this time of year.

I get asked this question twice a day at work (grocery store).

It Goes:

JA FE MR AP MA JN JL AU SE OC NO DE

One more year, and I'll have a song a la "Sound of Music"

Other sources seem to confirm that these two-letter month abbreviations were first used in Canada.

Edit: Here's further confirmation from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency:

The bilingual symbols for the months in the durable life date are as follows:

JA for JANUARY
FE for FEBRUARY
MR for MARCH
AL for APRIL
MA for MAY
JN for JUNE
JL for JULY
AU for AUGUST
SE for SEPTEMBER
OC for OCTOBER
NO for NOVEMBER
DE for DECEMBER

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18  
I don't think so - in Canada they go: Wi Wi Wi Wi Wi RR (road repair) Wi Wi Wi Wi Wi –  mgb Apr 18 '11 at 15:29
2  
Seconding this answer — I moved to Canada this year and met the two-letter codes the first time, and inquired and found out what they mean. But whatever committee decided that MA was better than MY really should have had their acronym license revoked… –  PLL Apr 18 '11 at 17:19
34  
@jasper: Maybe because these abbreviations also work in French? MR: MaRch and MaRs, MA: MAy and MAi, but not MY. –  user4438 Apr 18 '11 at 17:30
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@Jan Fabry +1 for your francophone observation. –  rajah9 Apr 18 '11 at 17:49
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The bilingualism also explains the use of "AL" instead of "AP" for April. –  Dan Apr 18 '11 at 23:05
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Ma is may.

As someone alrady said, the abbreviations are carefully chosen so that they work in both English and French. Ma for mai or May. Mr for mars or March.

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Maymay! Maymay! –  muntoo Apr 19 '11 at 3:21
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What is your opinion?

It is ambiguous for English speakers. From other answers here I see it causes widespread confusion. Any standard that causes widespread confusion is probably not a good standard.


Off-topic digression:

In the part of the world I inhabit, "Best before" dates are about peak flavour/texture/aroma, they are not about safety.

  Best before     About flavour and texture
  Use by          Health and safety
  Sell by         Shop stock rotation
  Display until   Shop stock rotation

From a BBC article

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@jasper: If "best before" were about safety, the vendors that use "best before" would already be sued out of existence. –  AndreyT Apr 19 '11 at 0:30
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You bought a bottle of juice today (04/18/11) and the best-before (BB) date reads "11 MA 23". Well, no reputable store would display a bottle of juice—a highly perishable food—that is over a month past its BB date. Thus, the MA in the BB date must stand for May.

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6  
Perhaps they are shifty and keep the expired MA products around to reshelve in a month... "MA means, uh, what month is it again? April? Then it means May." –  MrHen Apr 18 '11 at 18:09
    
It could have been 11 March, 2023. In fact, it could still mean 11 May, 2023. –  Erik P. May 28 '13 at 13:18
    
I don't think a bottle of juice could last that long! –  Jimi Oke Jun 1 '13 at 1:16
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protected by RegDwigнt Jun 25 '12 at 8:07

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