M&P - Best Before blog

‘Use by’, ‘Best before’, ‘Sell by’ – What do they mean and how important are they?

Many consumers are confused about the difference between ‘use by’, ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ dates, resulting in a huge amount of food waste.

A recent study showed that confusion over date labelling contributed 10% of the annual 88 million tonnes of food waste in the European Union last year, across all sectors.

In the EU, the ‘Food Information to Consumers’ regulation states that most pre-packaged foods must display a date mark and wording indicating whether the date signals a threshold in the product’s safety (use by) or its quality (best before).

The biggest areas of opportunity for reducing waste due to date labelling include fresh juices, chilled meat and fish and yoghurt. This is due to the difficulty in visually judging edibility of these products. The survey found that other food groups suffer less wastage, partially because of the ease of visual evaluation.

So, what do the date labels actually mean? ‘Use by’ is really the label which you need to pay attention to, and is usually found on chilled meat and fish, and dairy products. ‘Use by’ literally means you should discard food that is past this date, as it could be potentially harmful if ingested. This is because fresh meat, fish and dairy are ideal environments for bacteria growth. The ICF states that “The term ‘use by’ should only be applied on foods which, from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely, after a short period, to constitute an immediate danger to human health”, which explains the sparse use of ‘use by’. If a product is coming up to its ‘use by’ date and you can’t eat it, freezing does an excellent of preserving the food.

‘Best before’ is a signal from food manufacturers that they cannot vouch for the quality of the product after the stated date. That is not to say that you will get ill if you eat something that is past its best before date, it simply means that the taste or texture may not be the best it can be. ‘Best before’ often creates a lot of confusion, resulting in massive wastage.

‘Sell by’ is rarely seen on EU food packaging, but is mainly a sign for shopkeepers so that they are only selling products of the highest quality.

In conclusion, you should take ‘use by’ dates very seriously, but if you come across a product a couple of days past its ‘best before’ date, don’t worry too much, as long as there is no visible decay.

M&P Engineering is a manufacturer of commercial onion peelers and other food processing machinery. They supply equipment to all areas of the food production industry, including sachet filling machines, food packing machines and food depositors. With over 50 years’ experience in designing and providing manufacturing services to their clients, M&P Engineering has acute expertise in the provision of food processing machinery to a wide range of clients, and is a leading onion peeling manufacturer.

M&P’s large onion peeler uses a dry peeling process, peeling, topping and tailing onions with diameters between 45mm and 115mm using self-adjusting floating knife assemblies. M&P Engineering also supply fully refurbished used food processing equipment, as well as thermoformer depositors and filling machines. They also supply a range of custom machines, including custom piston fillers and custom depositors, for projects with bespoke needs.

If you would like to find out more information about M&P Engineering’s large onion peeler, call on +44 (0)161 872 8378 or contact us here.