Dates on food labels
Use by date is about safety
Use by date is about food safety and the most important date to remember! Foods can be eaten (and most can be frozen) up until the use by date, but not after. You will see use by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat pies, fresh dairy products or ready-prepared foods such as salads. For the use by to be a valid guide, consumers must carefully follow storage instructions.
It is illegal for businesses to sell food at any time after its use by date, or to alter the date without the manufacturers’ permission. The reason for this is because the food could cause food poisoning when it “goes off”. If you see such items you can tell the owner/manager of the business of their legal obligation, or report them to our Environmental Health team.
Best before date is about quality
Best before date is about quality and not safety. The food is most likely to go stale or the taste may change, but not cause food poisoning. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture might not be as good. The best before dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. The best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label. You may also occasionally see best before end dates and these are often found on products with very long shelf life such as tins and dried food.
It is not an offence for businesses to sell or use food past its 'best before' or ‘best before end’ date; however, if the food is unfit or of poor quality then an offence may have been committed, and you can tell the food business, or return the product. We will only intervene if the food is unsafe, or of such low quality as to not be expected by the consumer.