Know Your Dates

Date labelling on our food can be vague, confusing and sometimes inconsistent. A recent EPA survey, conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes, found that many people have positive behaviours when managing food in the home; there is a strong understanding that ‘use-by’ dates are a deadline, and people actively check them to ensure food is still safe to eat. However, 68% of people still say ‘passing use-by dates’ is the top reason they throw out food at home and 54% of people are misinformed that food must be frozen on the day of purchase. By eating or freezing food up to its ‘use-by’ date you can save money and avoid food waste. Here’s a guide!

‘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 qualityFood 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!