Use By and Best Before Dates

Published in Charlbury Chronicle June 2010

Use By and Best Before Dates - What do they mean?

Many people are confused by dates on packaged foods, in fact so confused they throw food out when it will actually be OK to eat. So, do they mean the same thing? No, they don’t. Use By is a safety date for perishable food, like meat and dairy products, which has an immediate health risk if it goes off and it is illegal to sell food past this date. However, Best Before is an advisory date the manufacturer suggests for its taste and texture quality rather than safety. So don’t be fooled like so many people are, you don’t have to throw food out just because it is past the Best Before date. Just use your common sense and judgement, check the packaging isn’t damaged, that it has been stored according to instructions and try it out. The manufacturers are very conservative about Best Before dates, some give advice about how long they expect the food to be OK past the Best Before date, and this can be several years. Every day people in the UK throw out half a million teabags because they are past the Best Before date!

Putting vegetables and fruit in the fridge will keep them fresh for about 2 more weeks than leaving them at room temperature. From surveys, WRAP have found that most people only think of using their freezer for storing bought-in frozen food rather than freezing fresh food. Freezers are mostly full of frozen pizzas, ice cream, chips, and fish fingers – but your freezer is a fantastic facility for extending the life of food – but be sure to label it with date and a description. Those Buy One Get One Free offers are a marketing ploy resulting in consumers wasting food rather than supermarkets, but if you freeze them for use later on then the food won’t go off and you will have found yourself a bargain. Think of the freezer as like pressing the pause button and freeze food straight away when fresh. If you’ve cooked more than you can eat then, once it is cold, freeze it for use another day. Small portions are great for unexpected visitors or if you’re on your own and don’t feel like cooking. Fresh bananas can’t be stored in the fridge, they go black, but overripe bananas are easily frozen for making into banana cake, curries, or ice cream.

WRAP have found that 84% of people in the UK believe they don’t waste food and yet over 13 million tonnes of food are thrown out each year and 5.3 million tonnes of this is still edible, this is worth about £5 billion. People who have kept food diaries show that three ideas really help reduce food waste:

1. Plan your meals and therefore what to buy when shopping – 15 minutes of planning can save a family of four about £600 a year.

2. Measure things like rice, pasta and potatoes before cooking (using a mug to measure rice is quite easy), nationally we cook twice as much as rice or pasta as we actually eat – try using the portion calculator on the website.

3. Let people serve themselves so they don’t take more than they can eat and anything left over can be used for something else.

Christine Elliott
Charlbury Area Waste Action Group