What's The Difference Between Best Before and Use By Dates?

11:43 am

As highlighted by Liz Redmond, Head of Hygiene and Microbiology at the FSA, ‘There is a lot of confusion among customers about date marks’. This is unfortunate for customers, but can be disastrous for businesses. Even ASDA fell afoul of food date guidance in November last year, being fined a cool £75,000 in the process. In short, you need to get your facts straight.

Use by dates:

Use by = Safety

As the name suggests, you have to use products before their use by date. After this date, food may be unsafe to consume and could pose potential health risks. Serving food which has passed this date is illegal and can result in prosecution by the FSA and an extremely damaging Food Hygiene Rating. Your management of perishable food is also something which a food inspector will assess as part of your HACCP.

It is therefore absolutely vital to monitor your food’s use by dates. If you are repackaging perishable foods such as meat or dairy into portions, attach Vogue removable Use By labels to safely monitor your food.

Use by dates are only valid if food has been stored properly. Nearly every food with a use by date requires refrigerating, but can be frozen up until this date. Always follow the storage instructions on the food, where given.

Best before dates:

Best Before = Quality

Food can be eaten up until a use by date, but is best before the best before date. In other words, the best before date is about quality and not safety. Whilst food is probably still safe, its flavour and texture might not be as perfect anymore. Best before dates can be spotted on lots of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. The best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label.

Help monitor the best before dates of food which you cook or prepare by using removable colour coded day labels. These help quickly identify which food needs to be used first.

Display until dates

Display until = Retail advice

‘Sell by’ or ‘display until’ dates are not required by law and are supposed to be used by retailers. Caterers and food producers do not need to worry about these dates. These products will still have a ‘Use By’ date and it is this date, subject to the correct storage practices, which you need to pay attention to.

Just remember that if you are selling pre-packaged food which gives a sell by date, customers are highly unlikely to buy it at full price past this date!

First in, first out

Introducing or maintaining a strict first in, first out system can be a huge help when managing the use by dates of your food. ‘Use this first’ labels can help you prioritise consumption, whilst frequently reviewing and reorganising your fridges and storage spaces is also important.

The Food Safety Handbook is a fantastic source of information on the correct storage of food and how to use dates correctly. Alternatively, browse our collection of labels to start planning the best way to manage the critical dates of the food in your kitchen. 

By Oliver Bernard

My years of experience working in pubs and restaurants means I am always interested in the latest industry trends. If I’m not exploring interesting new eateries, I’m trying to mimic them at home!


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