Can I Eat This? The Difference Between Expiration, Best Before, And Consume By Labels

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), approximately a third of the food produced globally is wasted. By wasted, the UNDP means it is uneaten and thrown away.

Expired food items that land in the trash bin also contribute largely to food wastage. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, expired food that ends up as food waste costs the world around $2.6 trillion annually.

The primary causes of food waste are over-purchasing food products, preparing more than can be consumed, not consuming food on time, and improper storage.

This enhanced community quarantine, everyone is urged to limit grocery trips as a measure against the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease, or COVID-19. Understandably, you may find yourself buying more than the usual food items and stocking up on goods, like everyone else.

How do you make sure nothing gets wasted? Pay attention to the date labels.

The date labels found on a food item are supposed to be a consumer’s guide to the items shelf life. Manufacturers and suppliers place expiration and best before dates on their products to protect their consumers and uphold health and safety standards.

Here, let us help you distinguish between expiry date, best before date, and consume by/use date.

‘Best before date’ vs ‘expiration date’ vs ‘consume by date’

Expiry date

Expiration dates tell consumers the exact last day that an item is safe to consume. This means you should never consume the item AFTER the indicated expiration date as it is already considered spoilt. Consuming something beyond the expiration date can cause illness and poisoning.

Here are some important items who’s expiration dates you should be particularly conscious of:

  • Formula milk
  • Dietary supplements and meal replacements
  • Pharmacist-sold foods and formulated liquid diets
  • Over the counter drugs, antibiotics and other prescription drugs

Best Before date

The best before date is a stamp signaling the day that an item will begin to degrade in quality. This means that, past this date, a product will begin to lose freshness, and could lose its original taste, aroma, color and even nutrient content.

Manufacturers usually choose best before dates by running sensory tests over a certain time period. If food quality can no longer be guaranteed after 100 days of storage, manufacturers would normally put the best before date at day 80 after manufacture.

The best before date is a quality indicator. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t consume a food item after the best before day. It just won’t taste as good or be as nutritious.

Consume By/Use By date

If an item has a consume by or use by date, the item needs to be consumed BEFORE the date and not after. The consume or use by date is usually put at a few days BEFORE an item is put out for consumers to buy. Highly perishable goods, such as fish, meat, poultry or ready-made foods in convenience stores will usually have this date stamp. Also, note that the date is only valid if you stored the item as instructed on the label, in the appropriate temperature and environment.