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

Aug 20, 2008
We should all be aware of the food labelling system used today but it can cause some confusion. Best before dates and use by dates are the two dates we should be concerned with but how are they different.

Use by dates
Use by dates are used on foods that have a shorter shelf life and that go off quickly. These foods include fresh and cooked meat and fish, soft cheeses, yoghurts and other dairy produce. The Foods Standard Agency state that we should not consume any food or drink that has gone past the use by date even if it appears to be edible and smells normal. The reason for this is foods and drinks consumed after this date could pose a threat to your health and cause food poisoning.

It is also essential that foods with use by dates are stored according to the instructions on the packaging. Foods that should be kept in a refrigerator will spoil quicker if left at room temperature and could potentially cause food poisoning.

Some foods with use by dates can be frozen to extend its life. If this is the case, you should ensure that you follow the instructions on the packaging, for example, freeze on day of purchase or defrost thoroughly before use.

You should also ensure that foods with use by dates are cooked and prepared according to the instructions on the pack to avoid any risk of food poisoning.

Best before
Best before dates are used on canned, frozen, dried and other foods such as biscuits, bread and most cakes. They are used to let the consumer know when the foods may start to deteriorate in quality and does not suggest they will be harmful to you if consumed after this date. The only exception to this rule is the best before date for eggs; eggs should not be eaten after this date. The reason for this is because eggs can contain salmonella bacteria which can start to multiply after this date.

Just like use by dates, best before dates are only accurate if the produce is stored according to the instructions on the label. Some foods need to be stored in a cool dry place, whereas others need to be kept in a refrigerator once they have been opened.

As best before dates are just a guide as to when foods need to be eaten by to ensure the best quality, they do not need to be thrown away once they have passed this date. Statistics show that around a third of the food we buy ends up being thrown away and most of this could have been eaten.

Both use by dates and best before dates are decided by the manufacturer. New products on the market are first tested to determine at what stage the bacteria in the food or drink becomes harmful. They then undergo more tests to see how factors such as packaging, transportation and storage temperatures can affect the longevity of the product.
About the Author
John Mce writes on behalf of Sauven Marking, suppliers of industrial inkjet printers and contact coders used to print best before dates, batch codes, warehouse barcodes and graphic logos onto cartons, trays, bottles, plastic bags, foil food packages and cans.
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