Last updated on 15 September 2011
Guidance to end confusing date labels
The Food Standards Agency and Defra have today published new guidance to help the food industry decide whether their products require a 'use by' or 'best before' date.
We always emphasise that “use by” dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety.
Under the new voluntary guidelines, food packaging should only use either ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date labels to make it easier for shoppers to know when food is at its best and how long it is safe to eat.
‘Sell by’ and ‘display until’ labels used for stock rotation should be removed to avoid confusion for shoppers, with different ways of tracking stock control explored by retailers.
Liz Redmond, Head of Hygiene and Microbiology at the FSA, said: 'There is a lot of confusion amongst customers about date marks. A number of different dates can be found on our food, so we need to make sure that everyone knows the difference between them. We always emphasise that “use by” dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety. This new guidance will give greater clarity to the food industry on which date mark should be used on their products while maintaining consumer protection.'
More about date labels
'Best before' dates relate to food quality, including taste, texture and appearance. Eating food past its 'best before' date is unlikely to be harmful.
'Use by' date are the most important date for people to consider, as these relate to food safety.
While it is an offence to sell food after the 'use by' date, retailers can, with the exception of eggs, sell products after the 'best before' date, providing it is safe to eat. Eggs have a 'best before' date, but should not be eaten after the date shown on the label.
Retailers often use 'sell by' and 'display until' dates on their shelves, but these are not required by law and are used mainly for stock control purposes.