Why ‘Use by’ dates on food packaging shouldn’t be ignored

Why ‘Use by’ dates on food packaging shouldn’t be ignored

The difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on food packaging has long been a source of confusion for many consumers. However, from a food safety perspective, as well as from a sustainability angle, it’s vital to understand the difference between the two.

‘Best before’ dates are found on packaging that belongs to foods that are not classified as ‘high risk’. Dried or canned products and many frozen products are good examples of this. ‘Best before’ dates relate more to food quality rather than food safety. In simple terms, ‘best before’ means that the quality of the product can only be guaranteed up until the date given. After this date, product quality may deteriorate but it will still be perfectly safe to eat.

On the other hand, ‘use by’ dates on food packaging are the really important ones. These are used on products that are classified as ‘high-risk’ such as fresh meat and fish, dairy products and prepared salads. Basically, foods that will spoil quickly and increase the risk of food poisoning if used beyond the ‘use by’ date. It’s also important that these high-risk foods are stored and prepared correctly to maintain shelf-life and reduce the risk of food poisoning if consumed.

It’s critical that people involved in the preparation or handling of food products know the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on food packaging. That’s why it’s a legal requirement under EU legislation for all food business to implement a food safety management system based on the principles of the internationally recognised HACCP system to identify and control potential hazards and ensure food safety.

HACCP training is essential for anybody working with food, be it in a cafe, restaurant, production or even food transport and delivery. Nowadays, this can be carried out as online food safety training as a more resource-effective solution to traditional classroom-based training. Knowing the important difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on food packaging brings significant benefits for businesses, not least increased customer safety, better staff morale and an improved business reputation driven by satisfied, healthy customers.