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What's the difference between best before and use-by dates?

Published 5 January 2017 by

We’ve all been there – you get to the end of the week, money is tight and you’ve had no time to go to the supermarket. All that’s left in the fridge are some out-of-date groceries. You open the packaging and realise the food smells fine but it’s after the best before date. Is it still safe to eat?

We’ll take you through what all the different food labels mean, so you’ll know the difference between use-by and best before dates.

Use-by dates

This is the most important date to look at because it tells you that food can be eaten up to this date. But after the use-by date, it’s not advisable to eat, cook or freeze it according to the Food Standards Agency. Foods that go off quickly such as meat or salads will carry these labels.

Best before

This label is about food quality as opposed to food safety. It means that you can still eat food past this date, but it may not be as tasty. You’ll get these labels on numerous frozen, tinned and dried foods. To get the best of these foods, store them according to the instructions on the label.

Display until and sell–by dates

Ignore these – they’re just information for the seller. It just tells them when they need to sell a product. But if a product goes past its sell-by date, it might be reduced.

Freeze food

In previous budgeting blogs, we’ve explained how filling up your freezer can help you save on your food shopping. When you do a big supermarket shop, keep a look out for offers, reductions and use vouchers to get the most from your shop. If you find fresh food at a great price, buy it and freeze it.

Most foods will freeze. If you keep an eye on your foods regularly, you can cook it or just freeze it raw before the use-by date. Wrap foods well – make sure you use freezer bags or plastic containers. If you buy bumper packs, eat some and store the rest, especially if you are a small family or live alone. That way, you can just dig food out of the freezer when you need it.

Think in batches

You certainly can defrost food in the fridge – just be sure it’s fully defrosted before you try and cook it. Once it’s defrosted, be sure to cook it through. Once something is cooked, it can be frozen but make sure you let it cool down before you wrap it up and freeze it.

So if you make meals, they’ll last up to a couple of months in the freezer. This means you can use them for work lunches or just for dinner after work to save time and money.

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