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BEST BEFORE DATES - What it means

About Products Shelf-life:
Best before and Use by Dates

What is shelf-life?
Shelf-life is the period of time during which a food or product maintains its acceptable or desirable characteristics under specified storage and handling conditions. These acceptable or desirable characteristics can be related to the safety or quality of the product and can be microbiological, chemical or physical in nature.

Under European legislation (Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011) shelf-life is referred to as the “date of minimum durability” (DMD).

What is the date of minimum durability?
Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 requires that the shelf-life of a foodstuff or product be indicated by either a date of minimum durability (‘best before’) or a ‘use by’ date.

What is the difference between a ‘best before’ and a ‘use by’ date?
The date of minimum durability, or ‘best before’ date, is the date until which a foodstuff retains its specific properties, e.g., taste, aroma, appearance, any specific qualities which relate to the product, vitamin content, etc., when the product has been stored appropriately and the package unopened.

Typically, a ‘best before’ date is used for food products such as canned, dried, ambient, frozen foods, etc. Many foods and products that are past their ‘best before’ date may be safe to eat, but their quality may have deteriorated.

In the case of foods and products, which from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health, the date of minimum durability must be replaced by the ‘use by’ date. The ‘use by’ is the date up until which a product or food may be used safely, i.e. consumed/applied , cooked or processed, once it has been stored correctly. After the ‘use by’ date, a products or food is deemed unsafe in accordance with article 14(2) of Regulation EC No. 178/2002 and cannot be sold.

Typically, a ‘use by’ date is used for fresh, ready-to-eat and chilled foods such as yogurt, milk, meat, unpasteurised fruit juices, etc.

An exception to this is raw, shell eggs which require a ‘best before’ date as set out in Regulation (EC) No. 589/2008 as regards marketing standards for eggs.