Understand Food Labels & Expiration Dates

The difference is key

There are many confusing and misleading terms within food date labelling. Use by dates are important to follow, while best before dates need assessment - you have to use your senses to find out when an item is actually expired. Understanding the difference between date labelling is key and we're here to help you with it.


"Expiry dates are responsible for 10% of the 88 million tons of food lost or wasted across the value chain in Europe (equivalent to 3 to 6 billion euros)" 

(WRAP, 2015)


Use by

What does it mean? Indicates that the food item is safe to eat until this date. Eating the item past this date may put your health at risk.

Where is it used? On chilled, fresh and perishable items.

So what do I do? Once opened, follow advice on packaging such as ‘eat within three days of opening’ or freeze it to extend its life.


Best before or Best by

What does it mean? Indicates that the food item is at its optimal quality until this date. It may still be safe to eat after this date, though it might have lost some of its flavour or texture. The date is purely an estimation from the manufacturer on when food is at its peak quality. 

Where is it used? On a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and canned food items.

So what do I do? The best before date will only be accurate if you store the item according to the instructions on the label (i.e store in a cool, dry place). Once opened, treat the item as fresh and follow advice such as ‘eat within three days of opening’. 

Use your senses to assess if a 'best before' product is still good to eat. Some items may get mouldy, taste sour, or have an unpleasant smell. Therefore, use all three of your senses: look, smell and taste.



Products labelled with 'best before' are usually dried, frozen, tinned or canned, but can also be products like milk or eggs, when it can be harder to tell if they've gone bad. Check out the video below to find out how to tell when an egg has gone off.



Display until or Sell by

What does it mean? These dates are not required by law nor are they important for you to look at. They simply indicate the date that retailers use as guidance for stock rotations. 

Where is it used? On a wide range of products. 

So what do I do? Ignore these dates, as they don't have anything to do with the expiry of the product.


Want to find out more on what we at Too Good To Go are doing in regards to date labelling? See our initiatives here.