Listening to labels

Listening to labels

Understanding food packaging labels can be complicated, so we’ve created a quick and simple guide to help you know when produce is still safe to eat.

According to the waste agency WRAP, approximately 2.9 million tonnes of food are thrown away by households in the UK before even being cooked or served. Unclear guidelines have a big part to play in this, as much of what we throw away is actually still fit to eat!

One of the most confusing things is the difference between Best Before and Use By dates, so we’ve broken it down for you.

Best Before

Best Before dates are about the quality of the food. Manufacturers add these dates to show you when the food will taste best in terms of freshness, flavour and texture.

However, food can still taste great after the Best Before date. Sometimes there might be no change at all, and other times the food might just need to be eaten in a different way. Slightly stale bread can be toasted, made into croutons, breadcrumbs or Panzanella Salad. Vegetables that have lost their crunch can be cooked, and even limp lettuce can be turned into pesto.

You’ll find Best Before dates on a wide range of food, especially those that are frozen, tinned or dried. Remember to follow the correct storage instructions on the label and to make sure that your fridge or freezer is set at the correct temperature.

Use By

Use By dates are there to keep people safe and they are the most important dates to remember. Food can be eaten up until the Use By date, but not after. If you freeze food with a Use By date on, make sure to use it straight away once it’s defrosted.

You will find Use By dates on items that have a short shelf-life, like pre-packaged salads, meat or fish. Remember to follow the correct storage instructions on the label and to make sure that your fridge or freezer is set at the correct temperature.

Top tips

  • You can usually tell if fruit and veg are alright to eat by looking at them. Don’t be afraid of a dent or blemish when it comes to fruit and veg, as you can just cut around them. Even if they’ve lost their lustre you can cook fruit to make pies and crumbles.
  • Old and bendy vegetables can still taste great in cooked food such as soups, stews and sauces.
  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries are usually perfectly good to eat past their best before dates. Even if they have gone a little stale, they can form the basis of tasty desserts, by using biscuits in tiffin and cheesecake bases, cakes at the bottom of trifles and pastries in decadent bread and butter puddings.
  • Stale bread can be used for bread crumbs, croutons, Panzanella salad and colourful summer puddings.
  • The Food Standards Agency has given official guidelines on British eggs saying that they can still be eaten two days after their best before dates.
  • Check out our full collection of recipes and tips for more inspiration.
Cornwall Food Foundation
Publication date:  7 June 2019
This tip is proposed for the commitment(s):
  • Don’t waste bread
  • Reduce your food waste
COOL FOOD is a Franco-British project created under the INTERREG FRANCE (CHANNEL) ENGLAND Programme.
It supports the transition to a low-carbon economy in the food sector.