Understanding best before and use by dates

Understanding expiration dates is a very effective way to reduce food waste, which is friendly to the planet and to your wallet. But what is the main difference and what do all the different numbers mean?

In the first place, it is important to understand the concept of shelf-life, which is the period of time during which a food maintains its acceptable or desirable characteristics under specified storage and handling conditions. These characteristics can be related to the safety or quality of the product and can be microbiological, chemical or physical in nature.

According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), the date of minimum durability, or ‘best before’ date, is the date until which a foodstuff retains its specific properties e.g. taste, aroma, appearance, any specific qualities which relate to the product, vitamin content etc. when the product has been stored appropriately and the package unopened. In other words, it is the date that food will generally be at its best, after this the food is safe to eat but might just not be at its best. It is best to store them in an air tight container after opening as they may go soft. This includes products such as chocolate, crisps and biscuits, which can actually last for as long as 6 months past the best before date.

The 'use by' date is the one that you need to pay attention to. The FSAI indicates that these are foods, which from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health, the date of minimum durability must be replaced by the ‘use by’ date. This is the date up until which a food may be used safely i.e. consumed, cooked or processed, once it has been stored correctly. This is placed on perishable foods and could make you unwell if consumed after that date. You can eat these foods right up to that date or you can freeze them for a time afterwards (if suitable); such foods generally include meat and fish.

In Boutique Exotics we only distribute processed food products with a long shelf life of over 12 months. In this way, we support the reduction of food waste. 

For more information on best before and use by dates visit: https://www.fsai.ie/faq/shelf_life/best_before_and_use_by.html