Know Your Dates
Date labelling on our food can be vague, confusing and sometimes inconsistent. European studies have found that two-thirds of us are at least a little bit confused with the meanings of various date-labels. Of course, most of us would rather be safe than sorry so we can end-up interpreting these dates over-cautiously and so all this puzzlement leads to unnecessary food waste!
‘Use by’ – A Deadline
Use by dates refer to food safety – Food can be eaten up to the end of this date but not after. It appears on fresh, highly perishable food fish, meat, salads and dairy products that could cause you to become ill if eaten after the date. Food marked with a use-by date can still be frozen up-to that date. However, it should be used up quickly once it has been defrosted. Freezing acts like a pause button, not a restart!
‘Best before’ – A Guideline
‘Best before’ dates refer to food quality. Food will be safe to eat after the ‘best before’ date, but may not be at its best. Food manufacturers have to guarantee the quality of their products up to a certain point, given as the best-before date. After this date, there is no guarantee that the food will be as fresh, tasty, crispy etc as before but it will not make you sick.
‘Once open use within …’ – An Extra
This relates to food safety and can usually be seen where there is also a ‘use by’ date. It means that bacteria can start to build up in the food after it has been opened and it may not be safe to eat after this time has passed. If you don’t think you’ll be able to use food within this time – all is not lost. Freeze anything extra before the date and defrost it as needed.
‘Sell by’ and ‘Display until’ – Irrelevant!
These are used by shops for stock control and can be ignored at home. Food is often perfect to eat for a number of days after this date.
It’s important to know that the way you store food has a big impact on how long it lasts and you should always use your senses (and common sense) when inspecting food.
Remember, food isn’t like Cinderella – it doesn’t go off on the stroke of midnight!