A best before date is a recommended date. Food is very unlikely to be unsafe after the best before date but it’s likely that the quality may be effected e.g. the taste, smell, appearance or texture. It is good practice for food businesses to not use or sell food which is past its best before date.
Use by dates are found on high risk foods i.e. foods that will support the growth of microorganisms and those that are ready to eat such as cooked meat/fish/dairy products, cooked rice and pasta. After the use by date any harmful bacteria which may be present in the food could be at levels that may cause illness – we can’t see, smell or taste these bacteria hence the importance of the use by date. By law food MUST be sold within its use by date. It is against the law for food retailers to have food which has passed its use by date on display or caterers to have it present in their fridges. Food businesses need to have good stock rotation procedures in place as well as strict daily date checks. Ideally these would also be done at the end of each day in order to throw away anything that will expire at midnight.
Some retailers also add a display until date in order to help them with their internal stock control.
These dates are obviously not fail safe. There are always reports of foods which spoil before their best before date and just this week a 5 month old baby was hospitalised after eating a jar of mouldy baby food.
Fiona Sinclair, Director of STS, says: “In this case the baby food was well within its best before date which means that air must have got in to enable spoilage microorganisms (mould) to grow. It’s likely that this would have happened due to damage post production which could have occurred during distribution, warehousing, display, transport or storage. This case shows the importance of thoroughly checking food before using it rather than just relying on the dates alone.”