Guide to Best Before and Use By dates

cracked egg

The average family household bins over £600 worth of edible food every year. It’s hard to work out what’s safe to eat though, so here’s a guide to what food labelling actually means.

Sell By or Display Until dates

This information is for shop staff, not shoppers. It’s the date by which the shop must sell the product. In terms of when you can eat it, ignore this date.

Use By dates

Use By dates relate to food safety. You can eat food on the Use By date, but not after. This is regardless of whether it looks or smells fine, because germs that start growing in the food after this date may be harmful if eaten. This applies especially to foods like patés, soft cheeses, seafood and meats.

Best Before dates

If you have a Best Before date on an item, it’s around the quality rather than a safety issue. After the Best Before date the food won’t be harmful to eat, but it might lose its flavour and texture.

Examples are things like fruit, vegetables and breads. So use your own judgement here. Peel away layers of onions or lettuce that don’t look as fresh – instead of binning the whole thing. Make toast from bread that’s a little dry. Tinned goods should still be a fine a year after the Best Before date.

An exception to beware of is eggs, which must never be eaten after their Best Before date.

Always follow other instructions on food packaging too, like “consume within three days of opening”. Once open, germs can get into food and make it unsafe to eat. Before it is opened it’s sealed, so it’ll last until the date on the pack.

Top tips to make food last longer

  • If something’s approaching its end date and you won’t have time to eat it, throw it in the freezer. Just be careful when you defrost: freezing food puts time on hold, so consume it soon after defrosting – ideally within 24 hours.
  • To prevent root vegetables like potatoes from rotting quickly, store them separately from onions as these can make them decay.
  • Bananas speed up fruit ripening. This is handy to ripen up fruit to eat before going on holiday. But keep bananas away from fruit if you want it staying fresher for longer!
  • Keep smaller plastic bottles of milk in the freezer instead of having to discard larger bottles that go sour from being open too long. If you’re going away for a week, put frozen milk in the fridge before you go; it’ll still be fresh when you come back.
  • Buy foods around recipes and meals you’re going to make, so they definitely get used.
  • When you buy food, take items from the back of the supermarket shelf where the Use By or Best Before dates are longer. Shops put the things they need to sell first at the front.
  • If you want to stock up on cheaper food that’s past its Best Before date, buy online from ApprovedFood. This store sells clearance items for a fraction of the normal price, while still being safe to eat. Buy bulk to get the best value from the £5.25 delivery fee.