What's the difference between 'Use by' and 'Best before' on labels?

Last updated:
6 January 2010
You will see 'use by' dates on food that goes off quickly and 'Best before' dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods.

Use by

You will see 'use by' dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products and ready-prepared salads. Basically, a lot of the products you find in chilled cabinets in the supermarket.

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. Using it after this date could put your health at risk.

For the 'use by' date to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow 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.

TIP: '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'.

Best Before

'Best before' dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods.

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.

FACT: However, you shouldn't eat eggs after the 'best before' date. This is because eggs can contain salmonella bacteria, which could start to multiply after this date.

REMEMBER: 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, if you want to enjoy the food at its best, use it by its 'best before' date and make sure you follow any instructions.