What is the difference between ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates?

We often find that many people get confused between ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ dates. They are often aware that there is a difference between the two, but not necessarily sure what to do when encountering them. This leads on to our 3rd question in our series of Common Food Safety Questions - what is the difference between ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates?

Use By vs Best Before Dates

‘Use By’ dates:

Basically, a 'Use By' date tells you how long food will stay safe. These dates have to be put on highly perishable foods (like cheese, milk and butter) that spoil quickly. It is important to know that these aren't just guesswork, the dates are worked out by scientific testing. You should never be tempted to eat or use food after the 'use by' date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine.


Use by dates


Food that is kept beyond a ‘Use By’ date should be destroyed without use. This is because once highly perishable foods pass this date, they are likely to be unfit to eat and could even be a hazard to health. It is illegal to use food beyond its ‘use by’ date because it can compromise safety standards.


Eggs Use By


‘Best Before’ dates:

‘Best Before’ dates are put on low risk foods (such as jams, pickles and frozen foods) and display when the quality of the food will reduce.  It is not illegal to serve food past it’s ‘Best Before’ date, however it is common practice to dispose of these foods as they will have reduced in quality.


Best Before Frozen Foods


Avoid being caught out: FIFO

The best way to avoid being caught out by ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use by’ dates it to use a Stock Rotation policy, such as the 'First In – First Out' rule, also know as FIFO. You should always use your oldest stock first. That way old stock doesn’t build up and is used before it loses quality.


Food Safety Tips

  • Food past its ‘Use By’ date should never be used.
  • It is good practice to throw away food that is past its Best Before date.
  • You should use your existing stock before using new stock.


Further Learning

Additional information about our Food Safety Level 2 certificate can be found here. If you work with food, and don’t hold a valid food safety certificate, you can purchase a license and receive a certificate in a few hours.








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