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‘Best before’ and ‘use by’ dates

Most packaged foods are required to be date marked with an indication of the minimum durability of the food – how long the food will last before it becomes dangerous to eat, or the quality or taste of the food deteriorates.

There are three types of date markings for packaged food. These are:

  • Use by: This is applied to foods which are highly perishable and are therefore likely, after a short period, to constitute an immediate danger to human health. They are required to be marked with ‘a day’ and ‘a month’, for example, use by 28 January.

  • Best before: This is applied to foods intended to have a shelf life of three months or less. They are required to be marked with ‘a day’ and ‘a month’, for example,  best before 04 March. ‘Best before’ may also be applied to foods with a shelf life of between three months and 18 months, provided it is marked with ‘a day’, ‘a month’ and ‘a year’, for example, best before 22 June 2012.

  • Best before end: This should be applied to foods intended to have a shelf life in excess of three months. They are required to be marked with ‘a month’ and ‘a year’, for example, best before end May 2013. Alternatively for products with a shelf life of over 18 months, this indication may be in the form of a year only, for example, best before end 2014

Foods marked with a “use by” date may not be sold or displayed for sale after their marked dates.

Foods marked with “best before” or “best before end” dates may be sold after their marked dates,provided that they remain of good quality and fit for human consumption. In these circumstances we advise retailers to ensure that customers know that the date has expired before they make the decision to buy.