Understand 'Best Before' And 'Use By' Dates

Canny shoppers always check the dates on food before buying it, but in a rush you might not bother to notice the distinction between 'best before' and 'use by'. That could lead to some unpleasant results.

The NSW Food Authority has a useful summary of the terminology used on food labelling in Australia. The bottom line is pretty straightforward: products marked 'use by' a certain date shouldn't be consumed after that date. Unsurprisingly, that mark is mostly used on fresh foods. 'Best before', a staple of canned and packaged goods, provides a recommendation, but not an absolute guideline. (I've certainly eaten tinned goods that have passed the best before date, though it always pays to check the contents before mixing them into your daily gourmet delight.)

You'll often see supermarkets selling products with an imminent expiry date — that's not a legal obligation, just a canny strategy to try and shift goods. Once they've passed a 'use by' date, they legally can't be sold at all, while there's actually no law against selling 'best before'-expired goods if they aren't damaged.

'Best before' and 'use by' dates


    It will be a perfect world when they start including "Product will rot ____ days after opening" labels.

    This is funny.. my mother-in-law and I are often at odds over this one. She says as long as it's not furry it's okay. We often have sauces and dressings that are at least a few years old (past the best before date).

    The one that took the cake though, was a partial bottle of corn syrup (for making pecan pie, etc. that was date..... 1987!!

    For some soft cheeses I look for the ones past their "best by" dates because whoever sets these dates has no understanding of glories of a mature cheese and until they reach the date they are mostly tasteless Philly.
    Most bottles of sauces and the like are so packed with preservatives, sugar and salt that they will last till hell freezes over whatever it says on the label.

      Ahh, that reminds me of how we had some tomato sauce which was in a plastic bottle, it's funny since the bottle lasted shorter than the sauce.

    Bitten too many times by supermarkets who probably don't rotate their stock correctly, I now check dates on all food I purchase as a matter of course, and select the most future date I can find. Sorry to subsequent purchasers :) Caveat Emptor

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