Best before and use by explained

All pre-packaged food that is expected to stay in premium condition for two years or less must be marked with information about:

  • how long the food should retain maximum quality if stored correctly
  • and/or when the food was packed.

Information about date marks

You should check the date marks on packaged food labels before you buy.

Remember all of the following:

  • date marks provide advice only, and should be used as a rough guide
  • food does not automatically go bad once a stated period has passed
  • date marks cannot stop food going bad if it is stored incorrectly
  • food can become spoiled before its use by or best before date if the packaging is damaged and bacteria can enter.

Best before

Best before dates give an idea of how long the food will last before losing quality.

Foods with a shelf life of less than two years must have a best before date.

It is best to buy food before its best before date. However, most food will last beyond this date and remain safe to eat if stored properly.

Best before dates should be used as a guide only. Some products, such as frozen and canned food, often keep their quality after the best before date has passed.

Food that looks and smells as expected should be safe to eat even if the best before date has passed.

Selling out of date or short-dated food

It is legal to sell food past its best before date if:

  • the food is not damaged, deteriorated or perished
  • there is a sign informing consumers if food prices have been reduced because the food is out of date or short dated
  • the date marking on the food label has not been tampered with.

Use by

Foods that must be eaten before a certain date for health and safety reasons must have a use by date, after which they should not be sold or eaten.

An exception is bread, which can be labelled with a baked on date if its shelf life is less than seven days.

For more information, contact Environmental Health.

Last updated: 21 September 2015

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