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Meanings behind the various – use by – terms on supermarket produce?

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The amount of choice we have when we do our groceries can leave us at a bit of a loss as to what to buy. A lot of the time, we tend to base our purchase decisions on the small tag supposed to tell us when the food is supposed to go off. However, in recent years, it has been shown that many people throw out several tons of food that is still edible and poses no risk due to those same labels. Whilst many are quick to jump up and denounce what they see as supermarkets just trying to sell more products, is there a meaning behind these little tags? And is there anything you can do to ensure you don’t waste perfectly good food?

supermarket foods
supermarket foods

Unbeknownst to many, there is a lot of regulation that goes into food labelling as well as the terms used in said labelling. For example, ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ do not entail the same thing, whilst others like ‘sell by’ and ‘display by’ also imply different things.

You will tend to see ‘use by’ dates on products that goes off quickly, such as your pre-made meals, processed foods or meat products. It is recommended by doctors that you do not consume any food or drink that is past a ‘use by’ date, even if it seems fine – you risk food poisoning. Of course there are simple ways to remedy this by preserving the food in your freezer, handling it properly as per instructions and consuming it prior to the ultimatum.

supermarket, frozen food section
supermarket, frozen food section

‘Best before’ dates appear on a much wider range of products, usually your frozen, dried and tinned foods. This label denotes degrading quality of the product and not if it is safe to eat, this means that food may still be edible past a ‘best before’ date and will not harm you, however its flavour and texture could be found lacking.

eggs, they only sell by product
eggs, they only sell by product

Eggs are one of the only foods to have a ‘sell by’ date, due to the rapid deterioration and potential health ramifications of eating a spoiled egg. Usually eggs have a shelf life of 28 days, and are displayed for 21 days from the date they have been laid. After this date, they are thrown out as the risk of contracting salmonella increases exponentially.

As for ‘display by’ tags, they are for in-house stocktaking and ensuring that fresh products are always in store.

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