We have all come across those different dates and terms labelled on our food during our trips to the local supermarket or grocery store. However, the different types of advice can sometimes be a bit overwhelming and lead to some confusion, contributing to the 1.3 billion of tonnes of food waste in the world each year!
Knowing the difference between use by, sell by, and best before dates can not only help protect you from foodborne diseases but it can also help reduce the amount of perfectly edible food discarded.
A use-by date can usually be found on products that are likely to spoil quickly such as raw meats and pre-packaged salads.
What does a use-by date mean?
Use-by dates are about food safety. They indicate a date after which an item of food is likely to have spoiled to the extent that it is not safe to eat.
It is highly advised that food is not consumed after the use-by date as this could give you food poisoning.
Correct handling and storage are also critical to ensure the quality and safety of the food item, especially keeping the food in a fridge which is at the correct storage temperature.
Storage instructions can be found on the labelling, such as “once opened store in the refrigerator”.
You should also follow the consumption advice on the packaging, by ensuring you use/ consume the food item within the indicated time frame on the label eg “Store in a cool place and consume within 3 days”.
Some food items can be frozen which can help extend the use by date. However, it is highly important that you check the label beforehand that the food item in question is safe to be frozen and you follow the instructions for both freezing, defrosting and cooking to avoid food poisoning.
It is also advised that food retail companies pay attention to the use-by date. Products displayed should adhere to these dates, as well as the sell by dates, to allow customers adequate time to consume the products after purchase. Failure to do so can result in damage to brand reputation and puts the safety of customers at risk.
Best before dates appear on tinned, frozen foods and fresh food that keeps for a long time, such as eggs.
What does best before date mean?
As opposed to use by dates, best before dates are focused on the quality of the product and not the safety.
Items of food can be still consumed after the best before date, however, the texture, flavour and nutritional value of the product will be less and will continue to deteriorate with time
To ensure the continued safety of the food product, it is very important that the food is stored in the correct manner. Information on this can usually be found on the packaging.
If the food product looks and smells suspicious after the best-before date then you should not consume it.
Sell by dates are for the attention of food retail companies and not the consumer.
What does sell-by date mean?
Sell by dates are for food retailers, including discounters, supermarkets, convenience stores and grocery stores to inform of the date, up until foods can be displayed in the store.
Food is still perfectly edible once it has passed the sell-by date, although depending on how long this is, the quality of the food will be affected.
Although sell-by dates are meant as a guide for retailers, they are designed with the consumer in mind. Sell-by dates allow a generous time frame for food to be consumed after purchase before they spoil.
It is highly important that food retail companies adhere to these dates on food items to not only protect customers but to protect brand reputation.
Selling food items which have gone past their sell by date can lead to customers consuming food which is not safe to eat, risking customer health and leading to negative feelings around the retail brand.
Because of this, supermarkets and other food retail companies need to ensure that food aisles are constantly restocked with fresh items. Any items which have passed (or are near to passing that you know won’t sell in time) should be discarded to ensure the safety of the food and to protect the customer.