Government amends guidance on food dates'Use by' and 'best before' to be used on food

15 September 2011

Female checking food label

The government has clarified when foods should display use by and best before dates

The government issued guidance today for all food and drink manufacturers to print use by or best before dates to make it easier for shoppers to know if food is safe to eat.

The guidance, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), states produce must display a use by date if the food could be unsafe to eat after that date. Foods likely to require a use by date include soft eggs, ready prepared meals and smoked fish.

'Use by' for safety

Other foods, such as biscuits, jams, crisps and tinned foods must display best before dates to indicate where a food may no longer be at its best but is still safe to eat.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said the move will help 'people eat safely and make the most of their budgets.'

Which? research shows nearly half of UK adults are trying to reduce the amount of food they waste.

'Best before' for quality

Four in ten consumers told us they ignore use by dates and use their sight and smell to check foods. Which? warns that you can't identify harmful bacteria in this way.

We hope the government's guidance will help consumers decide when they should make a choice as to whether to consume food produce – through a best before date – as opposed to when food is no longer safe to eat – where a use by date is displayed.

Labelling for stock rotation

Food packaging will no longer be allowed to carry the 'sell by' or 'display until' labels, which is used for retailers to help with stock rotation.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said: 'This simpler and safer date labelling guide will help households cut down on the £12 billion worth of good food that ends up in the bin.'

Hatch a plan for eggs

Eggs are currently labelled as best before when they should have use by dates, as they could be unsafe if eaten after a certain time.

Which? wants Defra and the Food Standards Agency to tackle this anomaly so there's no room for confusion.

More on this:

  • Will the new date labelling system make you waste less? Join the debate on Which? Conversation.
  • Find out about our food and health campaigns
  • Read our fridge reviews