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Use-By Date vs. Best Before Date: What's the Difference?

Use-By Date vs. Best Before Date: What's the Difference?

We are all familiar with dates printed on the food and drink items we buy, and they usually inform our decision as to whether or not they go in our trolley. But, did you know that confusion and/or lack of awareness over date labelling leads to billions of pounds of food waste every year? Supermarket chains such as Morrisons are taking the decision to remove Use-By dates from their products to try and combat food wastage, but you may still see Best-Before dates (sometimes called Sell-By or Display-By) on food items. In this blog, we take a look at the difference between the two.

Why do we need to Print Dates on our Food and Beverages?

Untitled design (69)Different types of date labels serve different purposes. The best before date is about the quality of the food, while the use-by date is about safety. These labels are regulated to ensure that retailers use the appropriate ones for their products. However, it has been estimated that up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste that is generated in the EU every year are somehow linked to date labelling, for example, because of poor legibility or misinterpretation of the meaning of the use by and best before dates. 

What does the Use-By Date Mean?

The use-by dates mean that the product will not be safe for consumption after the date stamped on the packaging. Once this date has passed food should not be eaten, cooked, frozen or stored. Working out the expiry dates of food is a science and requires experiments to decide how long it takes for microbes to grow on products and at what stage they multiply to a point that impacts food safety.

Use-by dates are used for foods that are highly perishable (likely to spoil and pose a risk of making people sick). This includes fresh meat, fish, dairy products, fruit juices and other chilled ready-to-eat foods.

What Does the Best-Before Date Mean?

Untitled design (70)The best-before date's purpose is to indicate at which point the quality of the product may become impaired and the taste, smell or texture of the product might not be as appealing as it would be beforehand.

You may also see display-until or sell-by on some products. These labels are not a legal requirement and are there for the staff to reference in order to help them with inventory management and stock control. As a consumer, it is the best before and, most importantly, the use-by dates that you need to take notice of.

The best-before date appears on a wide range of foods, both refrigerated, frozen, dried and tinned This includes products like pasta, rice and other grains, dried pulses, tinned fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils, chocolate and many more. In Europe, eggs are also labelled with a best before date, which is set to 28 days after the egg was laid.

What Does the Best-Before Date Mean?

There are a number of benefits in understanding the difference between the different dates on your food:

  • It will protect you from becoming ill - nobody enjoyed food poisoning!
  • It will save you money - the less food you waste, the less food you buy!
  • It will help the planet - food waste produces a large amount of methane when deposited into a landfill. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more harmful than Carbon Dioxide!

We hope you have found this blog helpful and informative! Next time you go shopping, have a closer look at the dates on the packaging and see if you can spot the different dates. There may be ways you can extend the life of your food items by freezing them. Also, don't forget to trust your senses. Your nose is your best friend when it comes to spotting bad food!


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