Does my food have a best-before date or a use-by date? What is the difference?

It’s important for everyone, whether they are in the food industry, or not – to understand best-before dates and use-by dates. Best before and use-by dates is on all food packaging with the aim to keep food safe for consumption and to help prevent unnecessary food waste. The difference between best before and use-by dates is important to understand. This is because there are some foods that deteriorate within a certain time frame – this can cause harmful bacteria, thus presenting a food safety risk. Everyone should aim to know the difference between them both and which food types usually fall within each category. If you don’t then that’s okay – this article will hopefully help.

Best before date

The best before date relates to food quality – it is best eaten before this date. Best before dates can also be abbreviated to BBE – best before end on food packaging. If you consume food after the best before date you are unlikely to become unwell, however, the quality of the food may be compromised. The best before dates are mainly seen on pre-packaged goods like frozen, tinned, jarred, and dried foods. It is important to follow the food storage recommendation on the packaging for optimal quality.

Use by date

The use-by date is there for safety reasons and this should not be taken lightly. No food should be eaten after this date – it should be immediately disposed of as it can make you very ill. You have until midnight on the use-by date that is on the packaging, but not after. The only exception to this rule is if the food in question has been cooked or frozen on the use-by date. Use-by dates are mainly on foods that go bad quickly – meat, fish, and dairy products in particular. You need to follow the food’s storage instructions for the use-by date to be safe. Please check the food packaging for this information.

Always check the packaging

Always read the packaging for the best before, use-by dates, and storage instructions. There are certain foods out there that you have to be careful with when it comes to consumption. You need to store them properly, at the correct temperatures, and keep a close eye on the best-before date. There are some foods that are often questioned in regard to best before dates which I will discuss below.

What foods typically have a best before date?

Best before dates are about quality and not safety. After the best-before date on the packaging has passed, the food is still edible – and will be safe to eat but may not be at its best. Here are some of the foods that typically have a best-before date but please always check the packaging.
All frozen foods: frozen meats, fish fingers, chips, vegetables, and ice cream.
Dried foods: pasta, rice, pulses, lentils, peas, beans, powdered milk.
Tinned foods: meat, beans, peas, fruit, soup, tuna, hot dogs, chopped tomatoes.
Confectionary: chocolate, candy, sweets.
Long-life items: squash, fizzy drinks, bottled water, UHT milk, and milk alternatives.

What foods typically have a use by date?

Foods that are perishable usually have use by dates and it’s important that consumers adhere to these dates. If you eat any of these foods after the use by date there is a chance you can become ill. Here are some of the foods that typically have a use by date but please always check the packaging.
Fresh meat: chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, pork, sausages.
Fish & seafood: salmon, cod, tuna, trout, prawns, shrimp, crab, lobster.
Dairy & eggs: eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products.

What about fresh fruit and vegetables?

Fresh fruit and vegetables are safe to eat after the best before dates on their packaging have passed. They may not taste as fresh but they are perfectly safe to eat and unlikely to make you ill. Recently, in a plan to minimise food waste – grocery shops across the UK have removed best before labels on their fresh fruit and vegetables. Sainsbury’s and ASDA did so last year, with Co-Op following suit this year. Not only do they want to reduce food waste within their stores, but they also want to help the environment and save their customers money too – which is needed more than ever during this cost of living crisis. They have encouraged customers to keep fresh fruit and vegetables refrigerated or to freeze them to make them last longer.

Reducing food waste and saving money

More and more people are starting to pay attention to dates information and storage instructions on food packaging and rightly so. Food safety is, of course, the most important factor in doing so but there are other reasons to be aware of too. Keeping tabs best before and use-before dates can also reduce food waste, which is better for the environment and it also saves you money.

Want to learn more about Food Hygiene & Safety?

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