I believe it means it's the date when the food must be sold by, and it typically would be taken off the shelves after that point. What's more important is the date in which you must use or freeze the meat by.
The sell by date is the date given to when a product should be sold for example "Lamb- sell by date 21 of September 2012" this means it is by health and safety standards should be sold until the 21st of September 2012
I think it's just a guideline to shops for how long they can leave the food on the selves for. Typically it's a few days before the use by date (which is more important to the consumer) as it gives the customer time to either eat or freeze the product.
Food that has passed its sell by date but is still within its use by period can still be sold, as far as I'm aware, but is usually sold at a marked down price.
It means store should not sell it after that date. You should not buy a product after the sell by date. But you can still eat it for another day or two past the sell by date provided that you keep it in proper temperature and condition.
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