"Best before", "use by", "sell by" and "display until"... these are the most common labels that a consumer might find on food products that he purchases in a supermarket. Sometimes a product will have more than one of these labels with two different dates on it. Since these terms refer to different things that might happen to your food when the deadline mentioned on the label passes, it seems important that consumers are aware of the differences between these terms. Research shows, however, that consumers are often confused by different or multiple label which leads to them believing often that if any deadline mentioned on the label lapses, then the food product is not longer safe for consumption. This leads to consumers throwing away ca £12 billion worth of good food each year (5,3 million tonnes of edible food) in the UK (see the report on Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK prepared by Wrap). Currently in the UK a new regulation forces food producers to remove some of the labels ("sell by" and "display until") from the packaging in order to reduce consumers' confusion. Consumer organizations argue, however, that it might be a better idea to further educate consumers on the meaning of the labels. Do you know what to expect from a product with these labels?
"Best before" - after such a deadline the product is still edible. This means that consumers should not immediately throw the product away. When the deadline is over, the food product is still safe to eat, it only will not be at its 'best'. These are products that most consumers usually end up throwing away when they are still edible, which contributes to the enormous amount of food wasted every year. Products with "best before" label include, e.g., jams, snacks, dry or tinned goods.
"Use by" - food is unsafe to eat after such a deadline. These food products should be thrown away when the deadline is over. These products include, e.g. eggs, fish, meat, soft cheese, ready meals.
"Sell by" or "Display until" - these labels are used by the supermarkets for stock control reasons only and do not indicate time when the food product becomes unsafe. When such a deadline is over, the food in most cases may still safely be consumed (unless the "use by" date is the same as "sell by" date). These labels will be removed in the UK now.
Inspired by the news article in The Telegraph: "New rules scrap sell-by date".
See also Love Food Hate Waste website hosted by Wrap, raising awareness of the need to reduce food waste.