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Food Date Stamps Explained

According to the Food Standards Agency

A ‘Use by’ date is an instruction applied to foods that go off quickly, such as fresh meat and fish, where serious forms of food poisoning are a real risk if food is consumed after this date.

Don’t use any food or drink after the end of the ‘use by’ date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine.

For the ‘use by’ date to be a valid guide, you must follow carefully storage instructions such as ‘keep in a refrigerator’. If you don’t follow these instructions, the food will spoil more quickly and you may risk food poisoning.

‘Use By’ does not always mean ‘eat by’. If a food can be frozen its life can be extended beyond the ‘use by’ date. But make sure you follow any instructions on the pack – such as ‘freeze on day of purchase’, ‘cook from frozen’ or ‘defrost thoroughly before use and use within 24 hours’.

Once a food with a ‘use by’ date on it has been opened, you also need to follow any instructions such as ‘eat within a week of opening’.

Where as, a ‘Best Before’ date is advisory and tends to be applied to low risk foods and those with a longer shelf life such as frozen, dried and tinned foods. The ‘best before’ dates are more about quality than safety, so when the date runs out it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. While food quality is likely to decline after the ‘best before’ date has passed, health issues are not likely to be a problem.

Remember, the ‘best before’ date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label, such as ‘store in a cool dry place’ or ‘keep in the fridge once opened’.

‘Sell by’ and ‘display until’ date marks often appear near or next to the ‘best before or use by date. They are used by some shops to help with stock control and are instructions for shop staff, not shoppers.