If you find food dates confusing, you are not alone. Lots of people are unsure about them. ‘Sell by’ and ‘display until’ labels are used by retailers for stock rotation and tend to add to confusion for shoppers.
The ones that are actually relevant to your safety are the ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates. They do mean different things and only one of them will appear on a particular food product. Safefood has the lowdown…
What does a ‘use by’ date mean and when is it used?
The ‘use by’ date is used on perishable foods that are typically found in chilled display units, such as cooked meats, dairy products and prepared salads. These foods need to be stored safely by following the instructions on their labels and must be eaten within the ‘use by’ date. The ‘use by’ date is about the safety of the food.
Here are some tips on freezing and cooking:
- Raw foods such as meat and poultry that are close to but have not passed their ‘use by’ dates, can be cooked and frozen or used for up to another 3 days if kept in the fridge.
- These dishes must be cooled within 2 hours of cooking before you freeze them or store them covered in the fridge.
- Always defrost foods in the fridge and cook or reheat thoroughly once fully thawed
What does ‘best before’ date really mean?
The ‘best before’ date is used on foods with a longer shelf-life. It provides a guideline about when to use the product to ensure that its quality is of the highest standard. Provided the food has been stored properly and the packaging has not been opened, we can use our own judgement about whether the quality of the food is still acceptable after the ‘best before’ date.
How much food are you wasting?
It might surprise you that most households waste around €700/£600 through food thrown out unnecessarily each year!
These are foods that are typically past their ‘best before’ dates, but that are still perfectly good and safe to eat.
Here are our top tips for avoiding food waste:
Before you go shopping
- Check your fridge, freezer and store cupboards and plan menus around what you find.
- Make a list of the other ingredients you’ll need.
- Don’t forget to eat before you go – you’ll buy more than you need if you shop on an empty stomach!
- Try to leave the kids at home – you’ll be less likely to panic buy if you do!
At the shops
- Stick to your list!
- Always check use by dates on special offers as they are often quite short. But they can be good value as long as you use them or freeze them before that date is past – and in fact, they can be quite a handy way for stocking up the freezer..
- Unless you’re buying for a large number of people, try to buy loose fruit and veg.
- Check use by dates to make sure you’ll have enough time to use everything you buy.
- Try shopping online for the basics – it means you won’t get distracted by all the goods on shelves.
- Put fresh food away as soon as you get home. When you’re putting it away check use by dates to see what you should use immediately and what you should freeze.
- If you’ve bought things like chicken breasts in bulk, put whatever you’re not likely to eat straight into the freezer to use later.
- Always measure rice and spaghetti before cooking to make sure there’s enough for everyone – but not too much!
- If food is close to its use by date and you’re not ready to eat it immediately, cooking it can extend its life by a number of days. Just remember to cool and refrigerate it as quickly as you can.
- And remember – even limp looking veg can make a great tasting soup!