Understanding food labelling

The difference between 'use by' and 'best before' dates

'Use by' and 'best before' dates provide information to the consumer or the person purchasing the food, but they sometimes get confused and there are important differences:

Use by dates:

  • Use by dates on food labels are the most important dates to check, as they are concerned with higher risk foods and relate to 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.
  • If you come across high risk food for sale which is past its use by date, then this is a matter for Trading Standards (see below) and also our Food Hygiene Officers to investigate further. 

Best before dates:

  • Best before dates are about the quality of the food and are not generally concerned with safety. Food is normally safe to eat after the best before date, but the flavour and texture may no longer be at its best.
  • Best before dates appear on a wide 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.
  • If you come across food for sale which is past its best before date, this is not a breach of food safety law as best before dates are advisory; they relate only to the quality of the food.
  • If you eat food past its best before date the taste and texture may not be what it would have been when it was within its best before date

For further information see:

Video: Use by vs best before dates (by the Food Standards Agency)

Trading Standards

Trading Standards primarily deal with matters relating to the consumer. 

You can report a problem here:

For further 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: 17 June 2024

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