Application of minimum durability

The application of each type of expiry date is laid down in the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (Regulation (EU) No.1169/2011) as well as in other guidance documents and so will not be covered in detail here.

With the exception of a number of designated foods under the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (Regulation (EU) No.1169/2011) it is a mandatory requirement that foods carry a use by date or the date of minimum durability – in the form of a best before date.

However, in summary the terms Use By and Best Before are not interchangeable and should be applied as follows:

Use by:

Must be used for those foods which are highly perishable from a microbiological point of view. After a relatively short period, these foods are likely to present a risk of food poisoning, and so this relates to the safety of the food. ‘Use By’ expires at midnight on the date shown. Typically, this form of date coding is found on fresh and ready to eat foods such as cream cakes or cooked meat. After the ‘use by’ date food is deemed unsafe and it is a criminal offence to sell it.

Best before/best before end:

This kind of expiry date is used to indicate the period for which a food can reasonably be expected to retain its optimal condition and so relates to the quality of the food. This is the point at which the taste or eating quality may begin to decline. The food will still be safe to eat beyond this point but it will not be at its best. Legally food that has passed the best before date and is still fit for human consumption can be sold. Commonly it will therefore be found on items such as ambient, dried or frozen foods. In view of the vast range of food products, the expected shelf life related to the quality of the product can range from a few days (bread and baked goods) to greater than a year (canned goods, dry goods, frozen food). Similarly, the 'best before' date accommodates the wide range of shelf life applied to such products. Accordingly, the Regulations recognise that the format of the coding needs to be flexible for the range of dates covered. For a shelf life under 3 months, an indication of the day and the month is sufficient; between 3 months and 18 months an indication of the month and year is sufficient; for more than 18 months, an indication of the year is the minimum required.

The type of expiry date must therefore be taken into account when reviewing the shelf-life that is assigned to ingredients, work in progress or products that are ready for sale. We discourage the use of ‘Use By’ dates as a default for unsubstantiated application.

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Last reviewed: 27 Nov 2017