Use by and best before: what’s the difference?

Do you know what the little dates stamped on the side of your food mean?

two ladies talking whilst one drinks and the other checks the best before details on the side of a juice bottle

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.

Use by

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.

Best before

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.

Sell by

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?


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    12th Jan 2018
    Problem with what they are saying is, that a lot of things we buy, especially fruit, even if it has a 'Best Before' date, does not mean that it is still edible. Today, we returned a pack of plums back to Aldi, there was still almost a week on the use by date, and the plums looked fine skin wise as well as not being soft to the touch, but when we, that is my wife and I took our first bites of the plums, the inside was just mush, squishy tasteless mush; but this has not been the first time from Aldi, or Coles, or Woolworths, that we haven't returned items that are inedible and still within the dates of use!

    We know that fruit especially is placed in cold storage, but for how long? Apples are a bad one for looking good on the outside but the inside is brown, I would say all stores are guilty of this; however, what we do is as soon as we find anything untoward, we take a photo of the item on our phones, that then has the date on it, and you, the customer, has proof you had not held onto that item until it went bad, oh yes, don't forget to photograph the docket and the packaging; having done this, there is no question that the store has a responsibility to either replace the item or refund your money.

    Over the year, we haven't had any problems returning items to either Coles, Woolworths, and or Aldi, and they have always been polite about it and of course, apologetic. If you do what we do, you will have no problems with stores, after all, it is your right!
    12th Jan 2018
    The food that I can afford to buy now has Buckleys of ever getting anywhere near its Best By, Use By, When I open the Kitchen cupboard nowadays 5 Days before Pittance Day, there is a Mouse standing there with its Hand out !! :-( :-(

    Tags: health, food, safety

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