The best-before date does not refer to safety but to how long the product will retain its quality: flavour, colour, crispness, resilience and firmness. Quality gradually deteriorates after the best-before date. But the food may still be perfectly edible.
The best-before date assumes that the item has been stored properly. The label will often tell you what the proper storage procedures are. If temperature affects shelf life, it might say, “Chilled food: do not store above 8° C” on the package. The colder you store food, the longer it lasts. There’s a big difference between 4-5° C and 8° C in that respect. Under the heading to the left you will find advice on storing different kinds of food.
While the best-before date assumes that the container is unopened, the item may keep longer than that even if it has been opened. For example, an open carton of milk that has not been outside the refrigerator very long may be good for several more days.
If you are elderly, have an immunodeficiency disorder or are pregnant, you may be sensitive to listeria bacteria, which means that you should follow our special recommendations for shelf life and certain kinds of food.
Manufacturers specify a use-by date if they think that the product can deteriorate quickly and become a health risk. The use-by date is the last day the manufacturer guarantees that the food can be consumed without putting your health at risk.
Who sets the best-before and use-by date?
All packaged food is to be labelled with a best-before date – or a use-by date in certain cases. Fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a few other items, are exempt from the requirement.
The company that is responsible for the product, usually the manufacturer or packager, determines its expected shelf life. Date labels are often linked to storage instructions. Everyone who handles the item, from the manufacturer to the retailer, is responsible for making sure that it is safe and that it is shipped and stored according to the instructions.