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Best Before Dates on Food - Are you throwing out good food?

Updated on November 9, 2012

Fresh Grocery Deals - A Meal or a Waste?

Recent research has highlighted that many families throw out as much as one third of all the foods that they purchase. This could be as much as one thousand euro worth of food per year! In these times of recession when the purse is a little leaner it is our natural instinct to look for a bargain and to stretch the family food shopping budget as far as it will go. Most supermarkets have a section that contains marked down foodstuff and if you are like me, then this is one of the first sections that you head to during your weekly grocery shop! There have even been times when I have noticed a queue of people waiting to grab a bargain in this section! However when does our Savvy food shopping become a risk to our health and when are we being overly cautious and throwing out food that is perfectly fine?

Most food products that are sold in the stores today are legally bound to hold some kind of a label to inform you as a customer about the lifespan of the product. However it can all get a little confusing. The “Best Before” date is simply a guide to show when the food will be at it’s best quality but many people will not keep food after that date. Food companies always allow a little time within these dates in order to protect themselves and so many products may have many days of freshness left after that date. Take for example yoghurt or milk that have been kept in the fridge. This can remain good for almost 7 days after the best before date. There are however certain groups of people with whom you should never take the risk. People who are particularly vulnerable to becoming sick from food that is out of date are young children, elderly people and people with a weakened immune system. Therefore it is important to be careful when shopping for a bargain.

Have you eaten food that is past the "Use By" date?

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Where to start??
Where to start??

Labelling Explained

Display until or sell by are dates placed on an item for the benefit of the store keeper. You can ignore these dates as the product usually has many days left after this date.

"Best before" dates are mandatory on packaged goods with a shelf life of 90 days or less. The food will be at its best quality before this date; however it is not unsafe to eat once the date has past. The food is usually still ok for up to a week after this date.

"Packed-on" dates are mandatory on meat. They are designed to help consumers determine how long meat will be good to consume from the date it is packaged.

"Expiry dates" or “Use by dates” are required on fortified foods, such as baby milk formula. They are also required on medicines. Medicines degrade over time and some prescription medicine can even be dangerous after it’s expiry date. You should never ever ignore these dates even if the food appears to be fine. This may put someones health at risk.

Take care of food purchases. Refrigerate meats and dairy as soon as possible after purchase. Some salad dressings carry another message that will inform you to use the product within a certain period once it has been opened.

High Risk Foods

Poultry - Poultry whether pre-cooked or fresh should be eated by the "best before" date. Poultry contains salmonella that can lead to samonella food poisoning if it is not stored and cooked correctly. Refrigerate poultry as soon as possible after purchasing.

Seafood - Shellfish should not be given to children under the age of 3 because of the risk of allergies. Fish should never be eaten when it is past its use by date.

Eggs - Eggs like chicken can cause samonella poisoning. Ensure that no eggs are cracked when you are purchasing them. For young children, pregnant women and anyone with a low immune system ensure that eggs are well cooked.

Cooked Foods - Cooked foods that are bought from a food counter should be eaten within 90 minutes of purchase. These are not suitable for a child's lunch box as they may be stored at the wrong temperature or for a long period of time.

Rice - Cooked Rice should be eaten immediately or stored in the fridge. Rice should not be reheated as it contains harmful bacteria which can multiply when given the correct atmosphere and this can be extremely dangerous.

See Expiration Dates Explained Here

Tips On Keeping An In Date Food Cupboard

Stocktake: Before shopping do an inventory of the items that you already have in your fridge. (Remember while dried and canned goods will keep, fresh goods only last so long.) Use this time to do a quick clean out and get rid of any items that are out of date or gone bad.

Menu plan: Plan out menus for the week. This will help you to avoid the temptation to buy unnecessary items. If you do see a good bargain, alter your menu accordingly or freeze immediately.

When putting your shopping away, place items with a longer shelf life to the back of your cupboard so that none of your foods end up getting thrown in the bin.

Be inventive! Often two day old bread can be used to make wonderful bread and butter pudding.

Dont use cans that have dents or bulges in them

Check fruit and vegetables for signs of bruising or mold before purchasing

Remember that the best before date means unopened (opened products will not last as long)

Do not leave food products out of the fridge for longer than necessary.


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    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 6 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Great information, everyone should be aware of this. Thanks for sharing.

    • alipuckett profile image

      alipuckett 6 years ago

      This is so helpful! I've always been a bit confused by the labeling. BY the way, the 'High Risk Foods' sections of your hub has the same content as 'Labeling Explained'. I'd be interested to hear which foods are the most high risk.