How much attention to you pay to the little date stamped on your food packages? For instance, if the use-by date on the side of the milk bottle has passed do you promptly pour it down the drain? What about the ‘best before’ date on that jar of peanut butter?
According to Australian and New Zealand food standards, a date mark is given to food to indicate how long it can be kept before it begins to deteriorate or becomes unsafe to eat.
There are two main date types: use by and best before. It is the responsibility of the food supplier to list these dates. Many people do not realise that these two dates are not the same thing. In fact, some people use them interchangeably.
So what is the difference? Let us explain.
When a manufacturer adds a use-by date to a food package, it is telling consumers the last day that product should be consumed. It is generally considered unsafe to eat food that has passed its use-by date because a build-up of bacteria may have occurred to spoil the food. It is also illegal for a business to sell an item after its use-by date.
This is the date by which a food supplier has deemed the product will reach its peak freshness. After this date, the food can still be okay to eat, but the quality may have deteriorated somewhat. Most foods have a best-before date. Businesses can continue to sell foods that have passed their best-before date, and will usually apply a discount if they intend to do so.
Lastly, the sell-by date is most relevant for stockists and is designed to inform staff when foods will reach the end of their shelf life and become unsaleable. It is illegal for businesses to sell foods after this date has passed. Sell-by dates are usually applied to highly perishable foods, such as meat, seafood and milk.
So, if food has passed its use-by or best-before date, should you throw it in the bin straight away or is there some wiggle room?
It depends on the type of food. Generally speaking, you should be very careful about meat, seafood and dairy that has passed its use-by date. However, not all food is inedible just because it has passed its expiry date. Using your discretion (and your eyes and nose) can often help you decide. Why not have a read of this article published in The Guardian, in which expert chefs share their opinions about when to eat and when to throw out food?