Understanding Food Expiration Dates: What Do They Really Mean?

Navigating food expiration dates can be confusing, but understanding them is crucial for food safety and reducing waste. Here’s a breakdown of what “best before,” “sell by,” and “use by” dates mean, along with tips on how to properly store food to extend its shelf life.

Best Before Date

The “best before” date indicates when the product will be at its peak quality in terms of flavour, texture, and nutritional value. It’s not about safety, so foods can still be safe to eat after this date, but they may not taste as good. If you are unsure if the food is still good to consume after the best before date, always prioritise safety and discard the food. Always try your best to use foods before the best before date.

Sell By Date

The “sell by” date is intended for retailers. It tells them how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before this date, but it’s generally safe to consume it shortly after, provided it’s been stored correctly. Please see below on “Use By Date.”

Use By Date

The “use by” date is the most important for food safety. It indicates the last date the product is safe to consume. After this date, the food can spoil and pose health risks, so it’s important to adhere strictly to “use by” dates. DO NOT use foods after the “use by” date.

Tips for Extending Shelf Life

  1. Purchase the Freshest Food: When at the store, always check the date codes on the foods and buy the freshest items.
  2. Transport Perishable Foods Correctly: Use a cooler or insulated box to transport perishable foods from the store, keeping them cold to reduce bacterial growth.
  3. Refrigerate Promptly: Store perishable items in the fridge as soon as you get home to keep them fresh longer.
  4. Proper Packaging: Use airtight containers or resealable bags to protect food from air and moisture once the packaging has been opened.
  5. Freezing: Freeze items that you won’t consume by the “use by” date to extend their shelf life. Label them with the date so you can keep track.
  6. Cooking: Cook items that you won’t consume by the “use by” date to extend their shelf life. Consume the foods after cooking, or refrigerate and use within 2 days.
  7. Organise Your Pantry and Fridge: Keep older items at the front and new ones at the back to ensure you use them in the right order. Use the older foods first to prevent them from expiring.
  8. Check Temperature Settings: Make sure your refrigerator is set to 4°C or below and your freezer to -18°C to keep food safe.

By understanding these dates and following these storage tips, you can ensure your food stays fresh and safe for as long as possible. Reducing food waste starts with proper knowledge and storage practices.

For more tips on food safety and hygiene, trust the experts at Food Consulting Services. Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive food testing and consultancy services.