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Know your dates

Knowing the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ is important in reducing food waste.

Many of us get confused by the dates printed on our food packaging. Some of us wouldn’t touch food even a day past the date listed, while others are comfortable to eat food well after. Knowing the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ is important in reducing food waste.

So what do these dates really mean? Is it safe to eat food after the date has passed?

Here’s what you need to know:

Use By: These dates refer to safety. Food can be eaten up to this date, but not after, even if it looks and smells fine. Always follow the storage instructions on the packaging such as “eat within three days of opening.”


Best Before:
These dates refer to the quality rather than food safety. Foods with a ‘best before’ date should be safe to eat after the date, but they may not be at their best. Use your senses when checking the quality of the food – does it look ok, smell ok, taste ok? If so, go for it.

Please take extra caution if you are pregnant, sick, elderly or are giving it to a young child.

To extend the life of food, freeze it before the use by date and defrost and use within 24 hours.

What about…

Meat is fine to eat after the use by date, but only if it was frozen before the date. Defrost and cook it within 24 hours.

In New Zealand eggs are safe to eat after their best before dates, but you need to keep them cool to keep them fresher for longer. To check if an egg is fresh you should do the float test – place it in a bowl of water, if it floats it is no longer fresh enough to eat.

Tinned food can last for years – that’s why it is great to have a stash in case of an emergency. However, it needs to be stored in a cool, dry place. If a tin has a small dent, but otherwise there appears to be nothing wrong with it, the food should be safe to eat. But if a can has a deep dent – one that you can lay your finger into – it should be discarded. Deep dents often have sharp points and these could have allowed bacteria into the can. If you do not use all of the food from a can at once, transfer it to another container then store it in the fridge. It is not safe to store food in cans once they have been opened.

It is fine to buy food which is on ‘quick sale’ at the supermarket. If you’re not going to eat it immediately, put it in the freezer.

Are you storing food correctly?