How to correctly interpret dates on food packaging

  • There are numerous dates on product labels, and each one has a distinct purpose. These dates are used by manufacturers to communicate specific information to customers, although frequently there is ambiguity regarding the meaning of each date and its intended usage.
  • “Dates such as “Best Before” or “Expiry,” along with “Sell By” and “Use By,” all have different functions but are frequently used interchangeably.

A Sell By date informs the shop how long to keep the item on display for purchase. This date should be purchased before it passes; it is frequently close in time to the use-by date.

A Best Before or Expiry date tells you how long the product will be at its best quality. You can still use the product after this date, but it may not be at its peak effectiveness.

A Use By date is the final expiration date. After this date, you shouldn’t use the product because the ingredients might have deteriorated.

  • While there is some interrelation between the three, they are also each uniquely different.  For example, let’s consider a staple in many homes – milk. While a soured milk smell definitely tells you that you’ve passed the Use By date, it’s the manufacturer that determines this. Dairy producers pasteurize milk before distribution to kill all bacteria. They utilize this information to calculate an expiration date after testing or simulating how long the milk may remain under normal storage circumstances.
  • In this case, you can think of two different expiry dates at play. The initial expiry date from the manufacturer and also the expiry date for the consumer. Through testing, the dairy farmer is aware of the shelf life of pasteurized milk. The consumer expiry date (also known as the Sell By) will be impacted if their goods is delayed in shipment for any reason. The expiration date is however reached if a product is left unopened after purchase for an excessive amount of time.
  • As you can see, it’s crucial to understand the differences between expiry, use by, and sell by dates in a variety of businesses. These dates assist manufacturers in maintaining the freshness and shelf life of their products, as well as helping consumers stay safe by preventing them from buying or consuming spoiled products.