September 12, 2022

Food Expiration Dates Explained


The dates labelled on food can sometimes be very confusing. With some products having multiple different dates on them, it’s important to understand what each date means so that you can make the best decision when buying items.

In a country where more than 10 million tonnes of food goes to waste each year due to expiration and “best before” dates have come and gone. It is important that we know how to properly read these dates and understand what they mean so that we can reduce the amount of waste we create.

So, what do these dates mean? And what are the differences between “best before” and “expiration” dates? The answer can get a bit complicated when considering the type of food, you look at.

BEST BEFORE

The “best before” date according to the United Nations food standards body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission is “the date which signifies the end of the period, under any stated storage conditions, during which the unopened product will remain fully marketable and will retain any specific qualities for which implied or express claims have been made.”

In simpler terms, the “best before” date merely indicates the period that the unopened food item should stay on the shelf to remain marketable to the consumer. This date appears on a range of frozen, dried, tinned, and other foods. This date does NOT mean that food will expire on this date and foods kept after this date will not necessarily expire but may lose some of their optimum flavour and texture.

In the case of eggs, however, they should always be consumed before the best-before date. This is due to them containing salmonella which multiplies over time.

USE BY

This date is defined as “the date which signifies the end of the period under any stated storage conditions, after which the product should not be sold or consumed due to safety and quality reasons.”

Generally, food which has a “use by” date should be eaten before the date specified. The “use by” date usually appears on foods which will eventually go bad due to physical and chemical instability. You will usually see these dates on fresher foods such as milk, meats, fish, and eggs, which are subject to spoilage. In other words, this is considered the “expiry date” and you probably shouldn’t eat something after this date has gone by.

OTHER DATES TO CONSIDER

Sell-by: The suggested time frame within which retailers should sell the product.

Date of Manufacture: The date on which the food becomes the product (i.e.: the day it was made). This does not indicate the durability of the product.

Date of packaging: The date on which the food was packed. This does not indicate the durability of the product.