Best Before & Use by Dates appear on nearly all our food. But what do they actually mean? Here's your quick easy guide. Understanding the difference will help reduce your food waste without putting your family at risk and save you significant money!
How much do we waste?
If you dropped £15 into your kitchen bin, you'd fish it out right? Yeah, of course! But every week in the UK, the average family throws away about £15 worth of food. Yes some of that food will have gone off, but the crazy thing is that the majority of that £15 is still perfectly good to eat. That’s over £700 a year (WRAP 01/2020) Imagine how happy you’d feel if you actually found £700 in a bin sack!
Why do we waste?
Why are we throwing away so much perfectly decent food, bought using our hard earned cash? Well, research says, it has a lot to do with Best Before dates.
It’s a big area of confusion for many of us. None of us wants to poison our families, so we err on the side of caution and throw away food that is perfectly good to eat. So here’s a quick guide.
Use By Dates
Use By dates are used on perishable foods like meat, fish, soft cheese and most dairy products that go off quickly. You shouldn’t eat these foods after the stated Use By date, even if they look and smell fine. Some harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E.Coli for example, cannot be detected by smell or taste.
Best Before Dates
Best Before dates are very different. They are used on products with a much longer shelf life such as biscuits, jams, crisps, tinned foods...essentially everything else. After the ‘Best Before’ date, it is possible the food may not taste quite as good, or the texture may have altered slightly, but it will STILL BE SAFE TO EAT. The truth is, for the vast majority of food, you probably won’t even notice a difference.
The only exception to this Use By / Best Before system is eggs! Eggs have a Best Before date, but do indeed go off. But don’t worry...here’s a simple little test you can do to avoid throwing away good eggs (or eating bad ones!). Place the eggs in a bowl of cold water.
- If they sink to the bottom and lay flat on their sides, they are fresh.
- If they sink to the bottom but stand on one end, they are a few weeks old but still good to eat.
- If they float to the surface, they’ve gone off and you shouldn’t eat them.
Now that you’ve got your heads around that, one more thing. On products that have a ‘Best Before’ date, you may also find a ‘Use Within’ date. This means that once opened, the product will start to go off and should be used within the time specified. Not to be confused with ‘Best Within’ which means that the product can still safely be eaten after the period stated, but may not be at its’ best. Clear?
So, to recap, Use By dates are about food safety and you should pay attention to these. Best Before dates are only about quality and you can be the judge of that!
It’s a big difference and understanding what Best Before actually means can go a long way to helping us all reduce our food waste and start saving considerable amounts of money!
If the ‘Use-By’ date is looming and you’re not going to get the chance to eat it, you can cook the food if applicable and store it in the fridge for 2 days, or freeze it. Food can be frozen right up until midnight on the ‘Use-By’ date. For more tips on using your freezer click here
And finally, just to show that food is #stillgood after the Best Before date, recently I ate a tin of sardines that was 18 months past its Best Before date. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve no idea why I bought them, but I can tell you they were absolutely fine and so am I.
Dates on food are there to help us, but understanding what they mean is crucial if we are to reduce our food waste. You may also have an extra £700 up for grabs