Tips and techniques

Best before and expiry dates: What’s the difference?

If you've ever reached into the fridge to pull out the last egg to whisk through your morning omelette, but have noticed the expiry date has passed, would you still eat it?

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the dates stamped on food, and there’s generally two rules of thought when it comes down to them.

On one side, many people ignore them completely and are content with using a sniff of the nose, or a generous hand-squish to determine whether it’s still edible.

Then there’s the people who stick to these dates completely, and won’t touch the food if it has passed the best-before date, regardless of the state of the produce.

But who is in the right, and which of the dates can we be a bit more liberal with?

Why do we food label?

According to Australian Food Standards, all foods that must be eaten before a certain time should be marked with an expiry or ‘use by’ date. This is done to ensure the optimal health and safety of Aussie consumers.

However, food that has a shelf life of two or more years does not have to be labelled, as it is difficult to give consumers an accurate guide on freshness.

You will generally see expiration dates on all packaged food including every day household products like dairy, noodles, jams and spreads and canned tuna.

The only food that may have a different date mark is bread; rather, this may be labelled with ‘baked on’ or a ‘baked for’ date if its shelf life is less than seven days.

Pasta with spinach, mushrooms & almonds

Dried pasta is safe to cook and eat after its best before date.

Best-before dates

Most foods have a ‘best before’ date. This is the best date to eat the food by for optimal taste, flavor and freshness, if properly stored.

If you still enjoy the flavour and quality of the food, you can usually still eat foods for a little while after the best-before date.

Expiry dates

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.

Related stories