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Coronavirus: Is it ever safe to keep foods after their best before and use by dates?

Got food you don't want to waste but worrying how long you can keep it for? Read the official advice

Coronavirus: Is it ever safe to keep foods after their best before and use by dates?

As coronavirus lockdown continues, we thought that now was a great time for a reminder about best before and use by dates.

Is it safe to eat foods after their best before or use by date?

The government waste adviser Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) recommends that people refer to the on-pack guidance for ‘best before’ dates and information on where to store the product and when to consume it by, but never to consume foods beyond their ‘use by’ date.

Simply put, food is safe to eat past its ‘best before’ date but not after the ‘use by’ date.

Here, we give you Wrap’s advice on when you should eat up your food. We also suggest ways to use up any excess food you may have.


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Eggs

Wrap says: One to two days after their best before date.

Storage instructions: Refrigerate in their boxes to keep at their freshest.

To freeze, crack into a sealable container, separating yolks and whites first if you’ll be using them for different dishes.

How to use them up: Make frittata, carbonara or custard, or use as a binding agent to make burgers and meatballs.

Milk

Wrap says: Has a use by date beyond which it shouldn’t be used

Storage instructions: Refrigerate cows’ milk and other ‘milks’ once opened to lengthen their life.

Instead of freezing entire bottles, pour milk into an ice cube tray. You can then add a cube of frozen milk directly to your hot drink.

How to use it up: Use up milk by making sauces, puddings (such as rice pudding), pancakes, smoothies and custard.

Hard cheese

Wrap says: Used to have a use by date but now has a best before date.

Storage instructions: Store cheese in the fridge in an airtight container or with a bag clip to seal its original packaging to prevent it drying out.

Cut hard cheese, such as cheddar, red Leicester and parmesan, into smaller chunks or grate before freezing, so you only have to grab a handful at a time.

How to use it up: Hard cheese can be revived by grating it into mash or cauliflower or macaroni cheese, Welsh rarebit or over pasta sauces or chilli. Or how about a fondue night in, as you can’t go out?


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Yoghurt

Wrap says: Has either a best before or a use by date, depending on brand.

Storage instructions: Refrigerate fresh yoghurts and keep long-life ones in a cool place.

Both yoghurts and fromage frais can be frozen. If you find they’ve separated once defrosted, mix them up again or use them with fruit or in a pudding.

How to use it up: Use excess yoghurt to thicken soups and sauces, to make dips (such as tzatziki), bircher muesli, muesli bowls or freeze it into ice pops.

Butter

Wrap says: Has a best before date

Storage instructions: Store in the fridge and wrap properly or put the lid on to prolong its life. Butter can be frozen and kept for many months. Freeze into small cubes then add to cooking as and when needed.

How to use it up: Cook dishes such as butter chicken or bake a cake. Make flavoured butter by adding garlic, herbs or spices then freezing into cubes.


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Fish

Wrap says: Has a use by date.

Storage instructions: Wrap tightly or store in an airtight container at the bottom of the fridge to prevent it from touching or dripping onto other items.

Don’t store tinned fish, such as tuna, in open cans in the fridge, as the metal of the can might transfer to the contents.

How to use it up: Make a fish pie, fish fingers or goujons, or make into a paté by adding mayonnaise, or into a dip by adding cream cheese.


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Red meat

Wrap says: Has a use by date.

Storage instructions: Store at the bottom of the fridge in a sealed container. Remember to keep cooked meats away from raw meat. Red meat can be frozen and kept for up to two years.

How to use it up: Use up in stir fries, salads, sandwiches and wraps.


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Poultry

Wrap says: Has a use by date.

Storage instructions: Any raw poultry should be stored at the bottom of the fridge in a sealed container to prevent it touching other things or dripping onto them.

Cut chicken breasts into strips and put on a tray in the freezer. Once frozen, bag them to use as and when you need them.

How to use it up: Stir fries, pies, coronation chicken filling for sandwiches and baked potatoes. Cooked cuts of a whole chicken can be frozen to recreate a roast dinner.


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Processed meats (sausages, burgers, products made with mince)

Wrap says: Have a use by date.

Storage instructions: Like all meat products, these should be kept at the bottom of the fridge in a sealed container to stop them touching other foods.

Processed meat products can also be frozen. Freeze sausages separately so you don’t have to defrost them all at once, which could potentially lead to them not being used and going to waste.

How to use them up: Use leftover burgers in risottos and pasta dishes. Squeeze sausage meat out of the sausages and use instead of mince, such as in a bolognese.

Fruit and vegetables

Wrap says: Have a best before date or none at all. Uncut fresh produce is exempt.

Storage instructions: Chopped or prepared fruit or veg should be kept in the fridge. Always wash vegetables before eating, as soil can contain food-poisoning bacteria such as E.coli (killed by cooking).

Fruit and vegetables can be frozen to use at a later date, but freeze berries separately so they don’t clump together.

How to use them up: Use fruit in smoothies, fruit salads and puddings, and vegetables in pretty much any meal.

Bread, cakes and biscuits

Wrap says: Have a best before date, although fresh cream cakes, for example, might have use by dates.

Storage instructions: Keep bread and rolls in a dark and dry place, such as a bread bin or cupboard, and don’t forget to clean the container regularly to get rid of mould spores.

Don’t keep bread in the fridge, as this might make it go stale quicker. Bread can also be frozen – to make it easier to separate after freezing, bang it gently on a work surface beforehand.

How to use them up: Bread turning stale can be baked to form croutons or breadcrumbs, or can even be used in a bread and butter pudding or summer pudding. If you happen to have any, leftover biscuits can form the base of a cheesecake, while leftover cake can form the base of a trifle or tiramisu.


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Flour

Wrap says: Has a best before date.

Storage instructions: Put the flour bag in a sealed container to prevent flour mites or weevils getting to it.

How to use it up: There’s plenty that can be made from flour, including cakes, biscuits, pies, bread and sauces.

Pulses and lentils

Wrap says: Have a best before date.

Storage instructions: Store dried pulses and lentils in glass jars to prevent them being spoiled by weevils. Old coffee jars or jars with rubber seals work well.

Don’t store open cans of tinned pulses in the fridge, because the metal from the can might transfer to the contents. If you have an excess of pulses and lentils, you can also freeze them.

How to use it/them up: They can be used in chillis, curries, stews and casseroles, as well as to bulk out mince in bolognese, lasagne and cottage pie or shepherd’s pie. Butter beans or cannellini beans can be mashed as an alternative to mashed potato.

Story last updated 9 April 2020

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