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Best-before and use-by date: do you know the difference?

According to the EPA use-by dates and best-before dates are the most common reasons people choose to discard food
10th Jun 2021

More than a quarter of all food produced is wasted globally, with food loss (food that has been taken out of the supply chain at an early stage) and food waste (food that has been removed from the supply chain during distribution, shops, restaurants and in our homes) accounting for 8-10% of total emissions. Every year, Irish households generate over 250,000 tonnes of food waste, racking up a financial loss of €700 per household (1).


Ireland, the home of Nutritics HQ, has pledged to reduce food waste by half by 2030. In order to reach this ambitious goal, each stakeholder of the food chain, from producer to consumer, has a responsibility to take action. (1).


From a recent study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was found that 9 in 10 people in Ireland believe that food waste can be avoided if consumers play their part (1). According to the EPA use-by dates and best-before dates are the most common reasons people choose to discard food (1).


With education on key differences between use-by dates and best-before dates, consumers are empowered to make safer, more informed food choices.


It is worth noting that while the US Food Industry is moving toward more uniform practices for date labelling of packaged foods, different phrases appear for use as product dating, such as Sell By, Best By, Expires on, etc. (2)


Use-by and best-before - what is the difference? (EU & UK)


Use-by date

A use-by date informs the consumer that the foodstuff is safe to consume until this date. It’s important to note that the use-by date is only valid if the foodstuff is stored properly as per packaging instructions such as keep refrigerated (2).

A use-by date is generally given to highly perishable foods such as meats and dairy products (3). After the use-by date, it’s important not to consume this foodstuff, even if it looks and smells fine, as it is unsafe to eat (3).


Best-before date

A best-before date informs the consumer that the foodstuff is at its optimal quality until this date. After this date has passed, the foodstuff is safe to eat, although it may lose its taste, aroma, appearance and nutritional value e.g. vitamin content (3).


A best-before date is commonly assigned to food products that are canned, dried, and frozen etc otherwise known as non-perishable foods (3).


Once the best-before date on a product has passed, its consumption is at the discretion of the consumer, who typically relies on metrics such as appearance and smell to make a decision.


Not all foods that have passed the best-before date should be discarded. Spotted, overripe bananas, for example have an intense sweetness that lends itself perfectly to a banana bread. 


If you work in a food service industry and would like to keep your consumers informed by using a label, you can find more information on our label maker tool here.


For more information on food waste and ways to prevent it, visit: https://stopfoodwaste.ie/



References:

1. EPA. Unwrapping Ireland’s food waste: Bread is Ireland’s most wasted food, with 41% of people reporting they throw away bread [Internet]. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); 2020

http://www.epa.ie/newsandevents/news/pressreleases2020/name,69523,en.html


2. FDA. How to Cut Food Waste and Maintain Food Safety 2019. https://www.fda.gov/media/101389/download#:~:text=FDA%20supports%20efforts%20by%20the,Best%20if%20used%20by%E2%80%9D%20date.


3. FSAI. Best Before and Use By Dates | Shelf life | FAQs | The Food Safety Authority of Ireland [Internet]. 2017

 https://www.fsai.ie/faq/shelf_life/best_before_and_use_by.html



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