The difference between best before and use by
Take a quick glance at your food packaging – chances are, there’s probably a date on there somewhere. But what does it mean? We know that the dates can be a bit confusing if you don’t understand the difference. We’re here to help you make sense of them, and in the process save your food from being wasted!
‘Best before’ refers to quality: your food will be at its best before the date given. After this date, it might not be at its best, but it will still be safe to eat. Use your senses to make a judgement. Depending on how your food is stored, it has the potential to be good enough to eat for a long time after this date. Here’s a guide to a few key food items and how long after the date they can be eaten:
- Crisps – one month
- Biscuits – six months
- Cereals – six months
- Canned food – 12 months
- Confectionary – 12 months
- Pasta sauce – 12 months
- Dried pasta – three years! Check out our Food Storage A-Z to find out how best to store foods.
‘Use by’ refers to safety: you must not eat food past the ‘use by’ date. You cannot always smell the bacteria that causes food to spoil, so after the ‘use by’ date, the food may appear perfectly fine to eat, but could still lead to food poisoning. Let’s be absolutely clear: you should NOT eat food after the ‘use by’ date – even if it looks and smells OK. Top tip: you can freeze food right up to and including the ‘use by’ date. If you’re not sure you will eat it in time, freeze it for another day! DISPLAY UNTIL / SELL BY
These dates are for the retailers – not us at home. You don’t need to worry about these. Some products, such as uncut fruit and vegetables and wine, for example, aren’t required to have a date label, and there are specific regulations referring to hen’s eggs, which require the use of a Best Before date.