Food labels - "Best Before", "Use By", "Sell By" and "Display By" - can often leave us scratching our heads, wondering if that jar of pasta sauce is still good or not. Meanwhile, the shocking reality is that over 8.4 million people in the UK are suffering from food poverty, even while 9.5 million tonnes of edible food is going to waste (enough to feed 30 million people!).
In this blog, we'll clarify the meaning and the differences between Use By and Best Before dates, helping you reduce food waste and its negative impacts on the environment (not to mention your wallet!).
What does a Best Before Date Actually Mean?
In the UK, the Best Before date on a food product is its personal quality guarantee. It's like the food's way of saying, "I'll be at my absolute best until this date." But that doesn't mean it's suddenly unsafe the day after. In fact, it's all about quality, not safety. Of course, every food has its limits, and you'll know when something's gone bad - that unmistakable funky smell, strange colours, or mould are big clues.
So, if you stumble upon a can of chickpeas lurking in the depths of your pantry, a little past its Best Before date, don't worry! Give it a taste, and if it smells alright and looks fine, it's probably still safe to whip into a hummus dip. Best Before dates are just there to help us enjoy our food in its prime.
And what is the meaning of a Use By Date?
The Use By date is like the superhero of food labels. It's there to keep you stay safe and sound. This date is the manufacturer's way of saying, "Hey, this food is good to go until this date as long as you've stored it right." Eating food after the Use By date can be risky because it might have developed harmful bacteria. So, remember to pay attention to these dates for your well-being!
How long can you eat food after Best Before dates?
Some foods with Best Before dates, like canned goods, dried pasta, or even some snacks, are often safe to consume beyond the date, as long as they've been stored correctly. The taste and quality may not be as top-notch, but they're still perfectly edible. For example, that pasta might be a tad drier, but it won't harm you. Just remember to always use your senses; if something looks, smells, or tastes off, it's time to throw it away. Also, there are handy tricks like the egg float test to check for freshness.
What about Display Until and Sell By dates?
Don't pay much attention to Display Until or Sell By dates, as they have nothing to do with food freshness or quality. These dates are mainly for the convenience of shop-owners to manage their inventory. In fact, the UK food waste charity WRAP are pushing for these dates to be removed as they cause confusion and increase consumer food waste.
So, how can I tell what’s good to eat?
Unless you're past the Use By date, which is non-negotiable for safety, trust your instincts when inspecting your food. If it looks, feels, and smells normal, it's likely perfectly suitable for cooking.
Want to do more in the battle against food waste? Check out our 10 tips to reduce food waste and start making eco-friendly changes.