What the Dates Mean on Food

best before date

We frequently receive questions regarding the difference between a ‘use-by’ date and a ‘best-before’ date. Here’s what you need to know:


Use-by dates are predominately found on those perishable foods which usually require chilled storage; this includes fresh meat and fish, dairy products, and ready prepared salads.

Foods which carry a Use-by date must be used (consumed) by the actual date specified on the packaging. Some products can be frozen to extend the life of the product, however, if you are freezing, you must freeze the product within its Use- by date. If you are not freezing, you must never eat a product once the Use-by date has expired. Serving food beyond its Use-by date puts your customers at risk of food poisoning – and you at risk of criminal prosecution!

One very important thing to note: You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions with regards to the storage, preparation, cooking, or reheating of the product.


Best-before dates are usually found on lower risk products such as those in tins and jars, or foods that have been dried or desiccated. Confectionary with high sugar content, or crisps and savoury snacks which have a high salt content, would be included within this category.

Best-before dates principally apply to the actual quality of the product, rather than to any health risk associated with consuming it. The Best-before date enables the manufacturer of the product to inform the consumer when their product is best eaten. Eating food beyond a Best-before date doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get food poisoning, but rather, the quality of the product may have diminished in terms of its texture, flavour and mouth-feel.

One caveat worth noting is that storage conditions will affect the accuracy of the Best-before date. Therefore it is essential that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding storage conditions.

Use By Once Opened

Certain products that carry a Use-by or Best-before date, may also specify a ‘use by once opened’ date. This means that the product must be consumed once the packaging has been opened, even if the Use-by or Best-before date hasn’t expired.  For example: the label on a jar of mayonnaise may instruct you to store in a refrigerator when opened and use within three weeks. It is imperative that use by when opened dates are strictly adhered to in order to avoid food poisoning.