Get to know your dates

Sell by, use by, display until… Many of us are still confused about what these magic dates on food labels really mean, and whether it’s safe to eat once it’s passed the deadline.

In a study of 1,500 UK consumers by Mintel, two-thirds said they rely on their own senses rather than dates to decide if a product is still suitable to eat.

Well fear not, we are here to help myth bust and hopefully impart a little bit of food wisdom to help you fight food waste, safely and efficiently.


We’ll start with Best Before: The best before date, sometimes shown as BBE (best before end), is about quality and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture might not be as good. Best before dates appear on a wide range of foods including:

  • frozen foods
  • dried foods
  • tinned foods

Note: the best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the packaging.


A use-by date on food is about safety. This is the most important date to remember. Foods can be eaten until the use-by date but not after. You will see use-by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products or ready-to-eat salads.

For the use-by date to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow storage instructions. For example, if the instructions on the packaging tell you to refrigerate after opening, you should keep the food in a fridge at 5°C or below.

After the use-by date, don't eat it, cook it or freeze it. The food could be unsafe to eat or drink, even if it has been stored correctly and looks and smells fine. A lot of foods, including meat and milk, can be frozen before the use-by date though so plan ahead.

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