Electrolux Newsroom Asia Pacific

When “Best Before” doesn’t mean you have to “Use By”

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“Best Before” and “Use By” dates are used to denote when food is still at its best quality, while dates such as “Sell By” and “Display Until” are guidelines for the store for when to leave the item out for sale.

So you weren’t really paying attention to dates on a carton while rushing through your  grocery list at the supermarket. Or maybe, you just forgot how long that cheese has been in the fridge. Either way, today is a few days after the Best Before or Use By date on the packaging, so are those foods still safe to consume?

Or would it  be a waste to throw them out? According to the Electrolux Asian Food Survey 2010, 43% of Singaporeans might agree, followed by 32% of Chinese as well as 31% from Malaysia and the Philippines. These were the four Asian countries which had the highest percentage of respondents indicating they were likely to still use food products after the “Best Before” date.

expiry date

Photo credit: Leung Wai-Leng

There’s a simple explanation why this might be more acceptable in those countries: A “Best Before”, “Use By” or “Use Before” date usually just indicates when the product should be consumed for best flavour or quality. Usually based on a recommendation by the manufacturer, these dates just mean that the food has the best taste and nutritional value if eaten before, not whether the product is safe to consume.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to dates. It is always best to buy food before their sell-by date in a store, which indicates how long the product should be displayed for sale..

“Use By” dates are also useful guidelines that should be heeded whenever possible. However, if you’d rather not have to plan  your diet around these dates, proper handling and storage of items will help keep the products suitable for consumption a little longer.

Freezing is a common way of preserving products way past their expiration date. Storing them at about 4oC and below, in addition to proper handling is generally enough to keep them edible. For canned foods, just make sure they’re not damaged and stored in a cool, dry space.  High-acid canned foods like tomatoes and pineapples can be stored on shelves for up to 18 months. Canned meat and vegetables have a longer shelf life – they can last for 2 to 5 years.

Surprisingly, refrigerated eggs have unusual longevity – they can last for 3 to 5 weeks after their expiration date.  Cottage cheese can last for 10 to 14 days past its expiration date. Hard or semi-soft cheese like cheddar and swiss cheese do not support the growth of harmful bacteria so while they might grow mouldy, they may still be edible as long as the mouldy parts are removed.

Some discretion should be used, however. Although milk can last about a week past its expiration date, if it looks off-colour or smells off, be safe and toss it in the trash. Do the same with cans that are damaged, leaking or giving off a foul odour.

Not being wasteful is a good quality to have, but remember to err on the side of caution and good common sense when dealing with foods past their ‘Best Before’ date.

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