What is the difference between best-before and use-by dates?

Everyone should take food hygiene and safety seriously – whether it be in their own kitchen at home, or within the commercial food industry. It is important to understand both best before and use-by dates and to be able to tell the difference between them. Best before and use-by dates should be on all food packaging with the aim to keep food safe for consumption and to help prevent unnecessary food waste.

As mentioned previously, 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.

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.

How long do eggs last after the best before date?

How long eggs last comes down to different factors – how they are stored and handled is particularly important. The first thing you should do with a new carton of eggs is to inspect each one and throw out any which have cracks or damage. Avoid washing the eggs when possible as it can remove the outer shell cuticles that provide protection to the egg. If washing is needed try to do so directly before cooking. It is recommended that they are stored in a fridge as soon as possible – avoiding any change in temperature as it can cause condensation on the shell which in turn can cause bacterial issues.

In the UK, eggs are marked with a best before date – a legal requirement of 28 days after the egg was laid. Of course, it is recommended that you consume the eggs within this date but they are often still safe to eat after it. If refrigerated you can eat them 2-3 weeks after the best before date. That said, the quality, taste, and texture won’t be the same and they need to be cooked thoroughly.

How long do potatoes last after the best before date?

How long potatoes last depends on how they are stored. Potatoes are best stored in their raw form, in a very cool, dark, and dry place. The conditions necessary for germination are air, moisture, and sunlight. Potatoes can last between 2-3 months after their best-before date – that’s if they have been stored in a cold, dry, dark place. Potatoes stored at room temperate can last just 2 – 3 weeks. When potatoes are passed their best before date, it’s always important to carefully check each potatoes individually to make sure they haven’t started sprouting or rotting. You can tell potatoes have gone bad and it’s time for the bin when they become spongy, green, or start sprouting. It’s not advisable to eat spoiled potatoes – or any other spoiled foods for that matter. Certain pathogens grow when potatoes go bad such as; salmonella, listeria, botulism, and staphylococcus. 

How long do onions last after the best before date?

How long onions last depends on how they are stored. Onions are best stored in their raw form, in a cold, dark, and dry place. Whole, raw onions will last up to three months when stored in a cool, dark, and dry place. Places that provide these conditions may include your cupboard, cellar, pantry, or even garage. They also last this amount of time when stored in a refrigerator – but they must be kept dry. Onions can last up to 3 months after their best-before date if they have been stored correctly. It varies between onion varieties, and it’s important to check them individually before eating. Onions are very hardy and you can easily peel away any layer that has gone dry. Always visually inspect onions that are past their best before date to look for signs of mold, rot, or sprouting. If onions demonstrate any of these characteristics, then they should not be eaten.

How long does chocolate last after the best before date?

Chocolate has a best-before date which means that it doesn’t go bad and is safe to consume months after the best-before date. This, of course, is down to personal taste and the type of chocolate. If unopened and stored properly, dark chocolate can last 2 years from the date it was produced. White and milk chocolate can last 1 year if unopened and up to 8 months if opened and stored properly. It is recommended that you keep chocolate stored in a cupboard, or pantry, with a consistent temperature, and away from direct light and heat.

Reducing food waste and saving money

More and more people are starting to pay attention to dates information and storage instructions on food packaging. 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?

Take a look at our selection of food safety online courses if you would like to further your knowledge on food hygiene and safety. All courses on this page have been carefully crafted by our specialist team of food safety and hygiene trainers. All courses provide adequate training to ensure that learners practice due diligence and that businesses are protected against legal complications that can occur as a result of food-related mishaps. All courses offered to come with a certificate upon completion of the course and exam, and course content is independently reviewed each year to ensure that all courses correspond with the law and meet all available food safety standards. All courses are fully accredited by the CPD group will allow each learner to earn CPD points.