Best before date, the Use by Date; the freshness and expiration dates

best before dateThe best before date and the use by date, otherwise known as freshness dates and expiration dates respectively, are ubiquitous among perishable food items we buy. Do you really know what these dates mean? Are you throwing away product too early because you believe the product is expired when it’s really not? Below, I will explore the various meanings of these dates and how you can pick up deals on products that maybe past the optimal quality, but still very good to eat. In addition, I’ll talk about some misconceptions related to these dates.

“Shelf life is different from expiration date; the former relates to food quality, the latter to food safety. A product that has passed its shelf life might still be safe, but quality is no longer guaranteed.”

In other words, the best before date refers to the time-frame the manufacturer believes the quality of the product will be best, rather than indicating anything about the safety of the food or product. In contrast, the use by date relates to the expiration of a product, when it is no longer safe to consume. However, just because a product is still within the expiration date, there is truly no guarantee the product is safe to eat. At the same time, just because a product shows it’s passed it’s expiration date, it does not necessarily mean the product is unsafe to consume. This is especially truly when it comes to pharmaceuticals and or medical prescriptions:

“The expiration date of pharmaceuticals specifies the date the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a drug. Most medications are potent and safe after the expiration date. A rare exception is a case of Renal tubular acidosis purportedly caused by expired tetracycline. A study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration covered over 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter. The results showed that about 90% of them were safe and effective as far as 15 years past their expiration date. Joel Davis, a former FDA expiration-date compliance chief, said that with a handful of exceptions – notably nitroglycerin, insulin and some liquid antibiotics – most expired drugs are probably effective.”[4]

Depending on what country you live in, these dates may be named differently:

Open Dating is the use of a date or code stamped on the package of a food product to help determine how long to display the product for sale. It is also beneficial to the customer and ensures that the product is at its best quality when bought. An Open Date does not supersede a Use by date, which should still be followed. [8]

Sell by / Display until

These dates are intended to help keep track of the stock in stores. Food that has passed its sell by or display until date, but is still within its use by / best before will still be edible, assuming it has been stored correctly. It is common practice in large stores to throw away such food, as it makes the stock control process easier. It also reduces the risk of customers buying food without looking at the date, only to find out the next day that they cannot use it. Tampering with the posted date is illegal in many countries.

Most stores will rotate stock by moving the products with the earliest dates to the front of shelving units, which allows them to be sold first and saving them from having to be either marked down or thrown away, both of which contribute to a loss of profit.

So where can you find deals on products that are past their Best before dates, but are still just fine to eat?

Don’t forget about the other big name discount grocery stores who offer similar deals and who operate in most US states:

What discount grocery stores are in your area that you’re willing to share?

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2 Comment

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