Food packages have date markings to let us know how long food can be kept before it is unsafe to eat or before the quality of the food begins to deteriorate.
Food labels are there to give you information so you can choose between foods. Understanding food labels can be a tricky business, but it is worth trying to get familiar with the words and phrases used on labels. This way, you can start to make informed choices about what you eat and drink every day!
A "use-by-date" indicates the length of time that a food will remain safe to eat if properly stored and means that the food should be eaten by this date at the latest when correctly stored (for example, in a fridge at 5° Celsius or less). Perishable foods such as cooked meat products, prepared foods and salads will display a 'use-by-date' on the label and should not be eaten after this date has expired as this could present a health risk. Remember that when pre-packaged foods, such as cooked meats and prepared salads, are opened, the use-by date no longer applies and the food label will advise that the product should be consumed within a specified number of days – normally 2 or 3.
A "best-before-date" is more about food quality than safety, so when the date runs out it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. Remember, the "best-before-date" will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label, such as "store in a cool dry place" or keep in the fridge once opened.
A closer look
Food and drink labels normally include things like:
The name of the food
The list of ingredients, starting with the ingredient of greatest weight and ending with that of the lowest
Use by and best before dates
Country of origin (where the food was produced)
Cooking instructions (if this applies)
Name and address of the manufacturer, packer or seller in EU
Alcoholic strength of alcoholic drinks
Allergens that might be present (Remember that food allergies should always be diagnosed by a GP or dietitian)
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