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'Best Before' and 'Use By' Dates

Best Before Dates

Some of the products we sell are close to, or past their Best Before date but what does that mean?

In brief, the best before date is the manufacturers estimate of when the premium quality of its product may start to deteriorate and isn't when food should be discarded.

Food labels provide a wide range of information about foods. But understanding all of that information is important if we are to make use of it. Below we explain some of the more common labeling terms of best before, use by and display until.

What does 'Best Before' mean?

Best before dates are about quality, not safety. The food typically just begins to gradually lose its flavour and texture after that date, nothing more.

Best before dates appear on a wide range of dried, tinned and other foods.

Think carefully before throwing away food past its best before date. Every year in the UK we throw away 7.2m tonnes of food and drink, most of which could have been eaten.

What does 'Use By' mean?

Use by dates refer to safety and you will see on food that goes off quickly, such as fish, meat products and ready-prepared salads. Approved Food doesn't sell any food that has a use by date.

The NHS has a great guide with detail on Food labelling terms

What do 'Display Until' & 'Sell By' mean?

Date marks such as display until or sell by often appear near or next to the best before or use by date. These are instructions for shop staff, not for shoppers.

The NHS has a great guide with detail on Food labelling terms

What do the experts say?

Simon Rimmer: Approved Food "A good business and a safe business"

Simon Rimmer, BBC Chef and Food Expert

Approved Food is "A good business and a safe business"

"Do not eat anything after its use by date, however you can safely eat food after its best before date. I think we definitely waste too much food in this country. So Dan has got a good business and a safe business"

Julia Falcon, Love Food Hate Waste Campaign

"We lead extremely busy lives and taking an interest in what's written on the date label and then understanding what that actually means is a step too far for a lot of us.

If people were more confident about what date labels mean they'd get round to eating more of their food rather than throwing it away"

Sam Montell, nutritionist for the Food Standards Agency

"Shops are allowed to sell food after its best-before date has passed. Best-before dates are concerned with quality rather than safety, so it doesn't mean that the food is dangerous if the date has passed"

The man from the BBC, he say "YES"

Simon Rimmer of the BBC Food Fighters television programme visited our main depot and took some food samples to Leeds Metropolitan University for tests.

Chris Boothby at Leeds Metropolitan University

"We test for total bacteria we can find and then we specifically try to find individual nasties that might be hidden, things like salmonellas, bacillus and staphylococcus, all the things you would find if someone has been handling the food in the wrong way. If we have a look at the colonies here it is clean and there is no more bacteria on this than on the fresh clean in date sample. All of the samples are clean and everything is edible and perfectly good"

For more information on best before dates visit the Food Standards Agency guidelines page for more details