Understanding food date labels #giveupbinningfood


*in association with Love Food Hate Waste

My children are a bit obsessed with labels on food at the moment.

It started a few months back when they noticed the red-orange-green traffic light system, which details the nutritional content of the food we eat. I want them to understand the importance of a balanced diet and they love pointing out whether food is a treat or a healthier eat.

More recently we’ve also been looking at date labels and what they mean, as part of our role with Love Food Hate Waste’s #giveupbinningfood campaign which has been encouraging households to reduce the amount of food they waste.


The organisation hopes to inspire people to change their shopping and food storage habits and to help cut down on the amount of food which is unnecessarily thrown away.

In the UK, £13 billion of edible food was thrown away from our homes in 2015 alone. That’s a total of 7.3 million tonnes of food (400,000 tonnes of that here in Wales), which if prevented, would have the same environmental benefit as taking one in four cars off the road. Cutting back on food waste could also save households up to £15 a week, a whopping £60 a month – or £700 a year!

As a family, we are really aware of just how much food is wasted and how bad it is for the environment. But being a busy family with three kids and two working parents, inevitably some food does go to waste. This challenge has really made me question our food shopping, storage and eating habits to see if there is more we can do.

The campaign started on Wednesday 1st March and runs for the 40 days of Lent until Thursday 13th April. I’ve been blogging about it regularly during that time, with previous posts focusing on meal planning, food storage and portion size.


With food labels being the theme for this week, it’s been a great chance to explain to my children what those little date stamps mean…. although it’s something they’re still getting their heads around. Which is unsurprising really, seeing as many adults are unsure of the difference between the three main date labels – best before, use by and sell by.

Here’s what they mean:

Best before

This refers to food quality. You can eat food after its best before date. The flavour or texture might not be as good as it once was, but it won’t be harmful. (Remember that on packaged food, the best before date refers to unopened food.)

Use by

These dates need to be taken seriously. They relate to food safety and are usually found on meat, dairy and fish products which have a short life span and which, when gone off, could develop listeria or other harmful bacteria. For pre-packaged food, once opened, always make sure to store food correctly, otherwise it could affect the use by date.

Sell by / Display until

These labels are for shop staff to know how long a product can stay on display and when it needs to be taken off the shelf. We can ignore these.

Store in a……. / Once opened consume within…

Once pre-packaged food is opened, it might alter the use by and best before dates of a product. Read the advice on the label, store according to instructions and eat within the recommended time frame.

More tips on understanding food labels from Love Food Hate Waste

  • To extend the life of food beyond its date, freeze it before the date and defrost and use within 24 hours.
  • Providing eggs are cooked thoroughly, they can be eaten a day or two after their ‘best before’ date.
  • For foods with a best before date it’s ok for to use your senses to check if food is good to eat, but for those that carry a use-by date, sticking to the date is really the only safe bet – or you can of course freeze the food right up to that date.


Top tips to keep on top of your dates

  • Sort out the fridge. It doesn’t take long and it’ll save your food! Wrap up any half used packets such as cheese, sliced meats or sausages to stop them drying out. Bring the oldest foods to the front so that they get used first.
  • Most packets have instructions on them to tell you how long the food is good to eat after the pack is opened. If you can’t get through the food in that time, wrap it up, label it and freeze it for another time.
  • Regularly check the ‘Use-By’ dates on your foods and plan when to cook them. If you are not going to get round to eating them, again, wrap them well, label and freeze them.
  • Many store cupboard foods like biscuits, nuts, dried fruits, crackers, crisps and cakes have a best before date. Remember that food is safe to eat even after that date, and many of these foods can be frozen to extend their lives even further.
  • Run a rescue mission. Some dried foods like crisps, nuts and crackers can go a bit soft if they are not eaten within a couple of days being opened – popping them in the oven for just a few minutes will help them crisp up again as they cool down.

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You can catch up with all our Love Food Hate Waste posts here.

1 Comment to Understanding food date labels #giveupbinningfood

  1. Hungry City Hippy

    Love this! I love what the Love Food Hate Waste guys do – thanks for sharing 🙂 x

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