Best Before, Use By and Food Dates Explained
When making decisions as to whether to eat “out of date” food you can ignore both sell by and display until dates. The dates you want to pay attention to are best before and use by.
The Rule of Thumb
Food that has passed its best before is safe to eat, but the flavour and texture may change over time. Use your own common sense and preferences to assess it. A sniff and taste test is the best way to do this.
Food that has passed its use-by date is not safe to eat.
Best before dates are an indicative guide of when the quality of food or drink will start to change. They are not to do with safety. Food that has passed its best before date is safe to eat.
Best before should be considered a rough guide rather than a strict rule. There is no reason to throw away food that goes past its best before date, it is perfectly safe to eat and will often taste just as good.
The government has actually considered scrapping best before dates to help prevent food waste. Best before dates can give a misleading impression that food is no longer suitable for consumption, meaning lots of consumers will throw out their food after the best before date has passed when they don?t need to. The UK throws away seven million tonnes of food and drink every year; two million of this is thrown away by households and 670,000 of this is food that has been thrown out because food labels have been misinterpreted. The majority of this could have been eaten. This costs households an average of £470 year in wasted food annually.
If you want to reduce your food waste footprint, don?t throw out food just because it has passed its best before! To find out how food changes in taste and texture over time, visit our product specific pages detailing how long after the best before date you can eat different foods.
Simon Rimmer, BBC chef and food expert
What do the experts say?
"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."
Chris Boothby, 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 www.foodstandards.gov.uk
Use your common sense and do a taste test
A lot of experts claim that food dates have created a culture where consumers don?t make decisions about their food based on their own knowledge and common sense, but defer to dates presented by manufacturers.
This makes sense, to an extent. Best before dates should be used as a rough guide to help you get a sense of how old the food is. But since best before dates are not exact, consumers can use their own judgement and knowledge to make decisions as to what they want to eat.
It all comes down to flavour and texture, and ultimately this is about personal preference. If you aren?t sure whether you should eat a product past its best before, just try it. It is safe to eat so you won?t cause yourself any harm and you can decide for yourself whether the taste is good enough for you.
Remember that foods taste different in recipes too. Other ingredients can boost flavour where it may have reduced a little, meaning you can still make use of the food in the cupboard and help reduce your contribution to the problem of food waste.
Based on the feedback we receive, we find our customers rarely have problems with the quality of the food when buying products past their best before. Here are a few recent reviews on food quality:
You can view all our reviews here.
Use by dates relate to the safety of the food. You shouldn?t eat food that has gone past its use-by date as it may be unsafe.
Sell by and display until
The sell by and display until date is only relevant to shops and supermarkets; it?s not designed to pass information to the consumer. Its main aim is to help stock control processes. The dates are not required by law and do not relate to food safety.
Sell by and display by dates were originally included on foods in the form of codes that weren?t explicit with the pure aim of aiding stock rotation. A lot of supermarkets have phased out or minimised the use of sell-by dates as it can confuse consumers, leading them to throw out perfectly good food and contributing to the huge problem of unnecessary food waste in the UK.
Food producers and manufacturers have a legal obligation to include either a best before or use-by date on their food.
Supermarkets and retailers can legally sell produce that has passed its best before date, but cannot sell food that has passed its use by date since use by is related to safety rather than quality.
How are food dates worked out?
Food dates are worked out in a number of different ways. Each manufacturer will have their own tests that they undertake to establish how to date the food. Food producers will undertake testing in conditions that replicate possible food storage conditions and measure the impact on specific products, monitoring things like bacterial growth, as well as undertaking taste and quality tests to help establish a suitable best before date.
All food sold by Approved Food will have undergone this rigorous testing and comply with necessary requirements, meaning it is entirely safe to consume.