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Best Before vs Use By Dates - What Is The Difference?

Updated: Apr 1

Best before dates and use by dates, what do they mean? What are they for? Are they only for food or are they used for other items?


When it comes to food safety and consumption, understanding the significance of "best before" and "use by" dates is really important. These dates are crucial indicators for consumers, guiding them on when food is safe to eat or needs to be discarded. However, distinguishing between these two types of dates is essential, as they convey distinct information about the freshness and safety of food items.


Best before dates and use by dates are distinct. The best before date indicates the final date by which an item is guaranteed to maintain its quality. According to the NHS, consuming food beyond its best before date is generally safe, although it might not retain its optimal taste or appearance.


"Best before' dates are about quality, not safety. When the date is passed, it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture."


Use by dates, on the other hand, give the last date before a food is guaranteed to be safe to eat. The NHS guidelines state that after the use by date food must not be eaten as you could be putting your health at risk.


"You'll see "use by" dates on food that goes off quickly, such as smoked fish, meat products and ready-prepared salads.

Don't use any food or drink after the end of the "use by" date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine. This is because using it after this date could put your health at risk."


There is an additional date that you must pay attention to when it comes to food safety. Some foods can have a really long use by date, sometimes weeks in the future, but when you read the label it will say that the use by date changes to 24 hours, 48 hours or maybe three days once opened. These instructions must be followed as germs in the air can contaminate food once opened, these germs will multiply on the food and can get to unsafe levels quite quickly. Microbes that were is stasis when the packet was sealed can start to multiply when exposed to oxygen. The longer the food is left the more germs will grow until they get to levels that can make you very ill.


It is also important to follow the storage instructions on a food, does the food need to be refrigerated, can it be frozen or can you keep it in the cupboard? These rules can change once a food is opened as well, food can only be frozen once, food that was ok in the cupboard may have to be stored in the fridge once opened so check the label on anything if you're not sure.



a calendar
Use by means check the date, generally best before means check the food

Best before and use by dates are also used for items that aren't food such as paint, batteries and glue. Once the date on these items has passed, just as with food, the items are considered no good. The paint could be a slightly different colour or may not spread as well, the batteries won't have as much power, the glue may have gone hard so that you can't use it anymore.


Learning to read the dates on your food will make sure that you eat food while it's still fresh and tasty and will also prevent food waste.


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