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?

Expiry dates tags

Here’s what else you need to know:

  • Always follow the storage instructions on the packaging such as “eat within three days of opening.”
  • Please take extra caution if you are pregnant, sick, elderly or are giving the food to a young child.
  • To extend the life of food, freeze it before the use by date and defrost and use within 24 hours.
  • The reason that some foods have use by dates is because they can spoil without any visual signs. Foods that have a best before date are likely to have sensory clues to tell you that the food has gone bad. For example, it may have grown mould, have a funny smell or taste sour or rancid. If the food has none of these characteristics then it should be fine to eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I eat meat after its use by date if it has been frozen?

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

Is it safe to eat eggs after their best before date?

In New Zealand eggs are safe to eat after their best before date, 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.

What about yoghurt?

Dairy products have a best before date, which means they can safely be eaten after their date. Always use your senses to check it – if anything seems a bit off then don’t eat it. Sometimes yoghurt can get a bit watery. This liquid is the whey separating from the rest of the yoghurt. It is safe to eat – just mix it back into the yoghurt.

Does tinned food last forever?


No – but it can last for many, many years, which is why it is good to have a stash in case of an emergency. (This tinned food lasted 60 years!) 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.

Why is there a best before date on my packet of biscuits?

Any food with a shelf life of less than two years is required to have a best before date on it. Chances are your biscuits (or other packaged item) will still be good to eat long after this date.

Is food on “quick sale” at the supermarket ok to eat?

Yes. If you’re not going to eat it immediately, put it in the freezer. In New Zealand it is legal to sell food which has passed its best before date, but not food which has passed its use by date.

Are you storing food correctly?