Date marks give a guide to how long food can be kept before it begins to deteriorate or may become unsafe to eat.
The two types of date marking are use by dates and best before dates. The food supplier is responsible for placing a use by or best before date on food.
Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.
Most foods have a best before date. You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a best before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.
The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a baked on or baked for date if its shelf life is less than seven days.
Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, e.g. some canned foods, do not need to be labelled with a best before date. This is because it is difficult to give the consumer an accurate guide as to how long these foods will keep, as they may retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil.
If specific storage conditions are required in order for a product to keep until its best before or use by date, suppliers must include this information on the label, e.g. ‘This yoghurt should be kept refrigerated’.
You should also follow any directions for use or cooking instructions that the supplier has put on the label.