Everything you need to know about 'best before' and 'use by' dates - and the foods which spoil fastest

Friday, 24th April 2020, 3:44 pm
Updated Friday, 24th April 2020, 3:45 pm

Let's face it - every one of us has eaten something from our fridge which was several days past its 'best before' date and lived to tell the tale.

Making the most of the food you have at home is more important during lockdown than ever before, and many are wondering just how far they can stretch their groceries.

Yet, while some foods are fine to eat past recommended dates, others can be dangerous if expiry dates are ignored.

Here's your complete guide on when to use your best judgement, and when to stick to recommended dates.

'Best before' and 'use by' mean different things

'Use by' dates on packaging are printed for safety reasons, and you'll often see meat products labelled with them.

You can eat foods up to the use by date, but not after. They could cause you harm, even if they look or smell fine.

Use by dates are only a valid guide if you've correctly followed the storage instructions on the packaging - for example, "store in the fridge at 5 C or below".

'Best before' dates are given for quality reasons, and food is safe to eat after the date given on the packaging. However, the taste or texture may be different, so it's worth considering this before you decide to eat food beyond its best before date.

Foods that spoil quickly

- Fresh meat, fish and seafood: This food group is particularly susceptible to spoiling, so you should abide by storage instructions and use by dates in this case.

- Soft cheeses: You should never eat these beyond their expiry date, and should consume within a week of first opening.

Foods that you should use your best judgement with

- Jarred foods: Jarred foods are often fine beyond expiry dates. However, if one of your jars has mould in it, you shouldn't eat it. Pesto in particular will taste horrible once mould has formed.

- Oils: Oil is generally fine beyond its best before date. However, you should give it a whiff to be sure - as off oil can ruin an entire dish.

- Eggs: The easiest way to test eggs is to put them into a bowl of water - if they float to the top, they're off and shouldn't be used.

- Milk and yoghurt: Milk and yoghurt can be used a little past their expiry dates - however, it's usually easy to tell from appearance and smell when they have gone off.

- Bread: Again, bread is unlikely to kill you eaten a little beyond its expiry date. However, if there's mould on it you should throw it away, as even if you cut it off there may be invisible spores remaining.

- Packaged salad leaves: Though they may wilt past their expiry date, salad leaves are fine to eat so long as there's no mould on them.

- Hard cheeses: Hard cheeses like parmesan and cheddar are safe to eat after their best-before dates, but you should again use your best judgement based on the amount of mould on the cheese. 

Foods that don't spoil quickly

- Tinned food: As long as you've stored tinned food correctly, it should be safe to eat way beyond its expiry date - but you should consume the entire contents within a few days once opened.

- Spices: You can use spices beyond their best-by dates, but the flavour may be lessened. If you want them to last longer, buy whole and grind as you need.

- Dried pasta and rice: As long as you store in airtight containers (to avoid weevils and other pests), dried pasta, rice and most other grains can be safely eaten beyond their best before dates.