Friday, 25 June 2010

Food labelling - what does it all mean?

Food labelling is a subject that is far more confusing than it needs to be. There are so many aspects of information that packaging attempt to display, not always successfully. I'm most interested in when food should be used by. (I'm not normally interested in the nutritional information. The key is to eat a well-balanced varied diet and not loads of processed foods. Simple but effective.)

However, I have found some decent information from the The Food Standards Agency. Here's what they have to say about "use by", "best before", "display until" and "sell by" dates:

Use By:
  • Don't use any food or drink after the end of the 'use by' date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine. This is because using it after this date could put your health at risk.
  • For the 'use by' date to be a valid guide, you must follow carefully storage instructions such as 'keep in a refrigerator'. If you don't follow these instructions, the food will spoil more quickly and you may risk food poisoning.
  • 'Use by' does not always mean 'eat by'. If a food can be frozen its life can be extended beyond the 'use by' date. But make sure you follow any instructions on the pack - such as 'freeze on day of purchase', 'cook from frozen' or 'defrost thoroughly before use and use within 24 hours'.
  • Once a food with a 'use by' date on it has been opened, you also need to follow any instructions such as 'eat within a week of opening'.
So, "use by" is clearly the most important date to adhere to.

Best Before:
  • The 'best before' dates are more about quality than safety. When the date runs out it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.
  • The 'best before' date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label, such as 'store in a cool dry place' or 'keep in the fridge once opened'.
So, it's fine to use food if it's passed it's "best before" as long as it's before the "use by" date.

The final two, "Display until" and "Sell by" are to be ignored by us, they're for shops stock control only.


  1. My husband and I have this argument at least once a week in regards to whether something is ready to go the garbage and I try to explain that it is still fine. A lot of things I take out of the packages, just so he won't throw out. I still do keep track of the dates though.
    Thanks, I have forwarded this on to him.

  2. Haha - the joys of relationships!I'm on my own at the mo so don't have that problem. Hope you won the argument!


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