Understanding food labelling
The difference between 'use by' and 'best before' dates
'Use by' and 'best before' dates sometimes get confused, but there are important differences:
Use by dates:
- Use by dates on food labels are the most important dates to check, as they are about food safety. Even if it looks or smells fine, food should not be eaten, cooked or frozen after the use by date as it may be unsafe to eat.
- For the use by date to remain valid you must follow any storage instructions on the packaging. Remember you can freeze a lot of food, including meat and milk, before the use by date to prevent food wastage.
Best before dates:
- Best before dates are about the quality of the food. Food is normally safe to eat after the best before date, but the flavour or texture may no longer be at its best.
- Best before dates appear on a range of dried, tinned and frozen foods. The best before date will only be accurate if food is stored in accordance with the packaging instructions.
- Understanding 'best before' and 'use by' dates - on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website
- Food labelling terms - on the NHS website
Video: Use by vs best before dates (by the Food Standards Agency)
For advice on what to do if you think you've bought food products which are unsafe, please see:
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Page last updated: 25 October 2021