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Best before date and Use by date

by Josephine Andrews

Is that still good or does it have to go? The date printed on yoghurt, cans & Co. often determines the further fate of a food item: it either stays in the fridge or kitchen cupboard or ends up in the garbage. It is important for the decision to distinguish between the best- before date (MHD) and the use -by date . Read here what these terms mean and how they differ.

What does the best before date mean?

With the use-by date, the manufacturer guarantees the point in time up to which an unopened food item will retain its typical properties. These include smell, taste, color and nutrients. The focus here is on “at least”. That means: Even after the best-before date has expired, a product can still be in perfect condition. The MHD is therefore not an expiry date!

An expired strawberry yoghurt may not be as creamy or may have lost some of its fruity flavor. But that doesn’t make it a health risk. It usually only becomes critical when mold grows on it.

The best-before date can be recognized by the note “Best before…”. It is usually given with day, month and year. But there are two exceptions: If the product has a shelf life of less than three months, day and month are sufficient. If it has a shelf life of more than 1.5 years, the year is sufficient. In this case, the product says: “Best before end…”.

For some products, the best-before date is linked to certain storage conditions. These are clearly stated on the packaging. Examples: “Shelf life at 4-8 degrees at least until…”, “Store in a cool and dry place” or “Opened and kept cool for three days”.

The best-before date is only guaranteed if you comply with these storage conditions. Otherwise, the product can change its color or consistency beforehand or actually spoil – for example mold can form. The same applies to damaged packaging.

By the way: Food can also be sold after the best-before date has expired. Their price is then usually reduced – a bargain for consumers.

You can tell whether a food is still edible by its unchanged smell, appearance and taste.

What is a use by date?

Perishable food can become a serious health hazard after a short period of time. This includes:

  • ground beef
  • Processed milk (packaged and raw milk subject to special regulations)
  • poultry meat
  • fish and seafood
  • smoked fish

These foods must therefore have a use-by date instead of a best-before date. It can be recognized by the note “Use by…”. The use-by date states the last day on which the food can be sold and consumed.

So the difference to the best-before date is: If the use-by date has passed, it actually applies: throw it in the garbage!

The use-by date is – as in some cases also the best-before date – linked to certain storage conditions that are stated on the packaging. Make sure that you keep the cold chain from the supermarket to your home for perishable food – especially on warm days.

Then a heat-insulating shopping bag will help. And cool down the food at home as quickly as possible. You should also carry out further processing as quickly as possible.

In contrast to products with a best-before date, foodstuffs with a use-by date may no longer be sold after it has expired.

Which foods do not require a best before or use by date?

Since 2014, certain foods have been exempt from the BBD labeling requirement under the EU Food Information Regulation. This includes products that, due to their properties or composition, can be consumed over the long term. Even food that can go moldy or putrefy within a short time and this is clearly visible does not require a best-before date or use-by date.

These include:

  • fresh vegetables and fruits that have not been peeled, cut or otherwise treated
  • Wine, fortified wine, flavored wine
  • Beverages with an alcohol content of more than ten percent by volume
  • Solid sugar
  • Baked goods that are typically eaten within 24 hours
  • Table salt (exception: iodised table salt)
  • Ice cream in portion packs
  • Vinegar
  • chewing gum and similar products for chewing


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