Best Before Date Meaning. Useful Tips

All You Ever Wanted to Ask About Those Food Markings

Written by Elisa Chan. Updated on best before dates

How many times we have been staring at those mysterious words “sell-by” or “best-before date” on a carton of milk or a packet with frozen veggies? Definitely, often enough!

Sometimes these markings may indeed seem confusing since uninformed consumers often have no idea of their meaning and difference. 

Do you feel like it’s time to clarify this issue? Have you ever wondered what this best before date means? 

Then this place is right where the answer can be found!

Most Popular Food Date Terms

Today, the major part of the foodstuff presented on the shop shelves has special markings that indicate when certain groceries were produced and how long it is secure to keep them. Basically, these two meanings are the only ones the average shopper is aware of!

Nonetheless, plenty of additional markings exist that we have no idea about! No wonder consumers often ask themselves “what does best-before date mean?!”.

Next time you go to the supermarket for shopping, remember to take the following listing of the widespread grocery markings to not get lost among these signs.

Meet the top-5 foodstuff markings!

  1. Sell-by
  2. Best-by
  3. Use-by
  4. Best before (or bb date)
  5. Expiration date

And now let’s take a closer look at each of them in particular.

Best Before Date

Speaking of best before dates marking, it is often mistaken to be the same as the expiry marking whilst they are completely different!

Best-before date meaning indicates until which day the foodstuff will keep its best quality but it by no means shows the food will rot right the next day past the term expires! The foodstuff may indeed lose some taste or other traits but it will still be edible. This is what those best before dates are about in fact.

Use-By Date

Most Popular Food Date Terms
Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

Use-by date marking that is used today means the latest day for the foodstuff when it can be served, or consumed, or discarded. Many people mistakenly assume that after it comes to an end the foodstuff becomes rotten instantly but in fact, it is not quite right.

Best Before Date
Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

In most cases, the foodstuff will still remain secure to eat for a day or two past the use-by date but this is the most what we can expect.

Best-By Date

Many of us mistake this marking for the quality measure of the foodstuff whereas, in fact, it is not like this. 

The true meaning of this marking shows when the durable lifespan of the foods ends. In simple words, it shows until when a certain foodstuff will remain tasty and aromatic. Its peak freshness, let’s call it so.

Use-By Date
Photo by FitNish Media on Unsplash

It has nothing to do with the groceries’ security for our stomach, unlike the widespread belief. Quite a many foodstuffs these days is able to stay consumable for weeks and even months far after this term has passed!

Sell-By Date

This marking, unlike the previous ones, is meant for retailers. It shows for what interval the foodstuff can stay on the store shelf. This marking is mostly needed for better control of the stocks and the condition of the foodstuffs.

Best before dates: How supermarkets tamper with your food (CBC Marketplace)Best before dates: How supermarkets tamper with your food (CBC Marketplace)

As a shopper, one must buy the product before this date passes to be sure the foodstuff is the freshest. However, it will still stay edible for several days or weeks (sometimes longer) after this term passes.

Expiration Date

Sell-By Date
Photo by Amanda Congiu on Unsplash

Theoretically, this marking means that the foodstuff will become useless and spoiled after the indicated term goes by.  

Nevertheless, the truth is that it is extremely hard to predict and pre-calculate the durability interval for the foodstuff sold in the stores. That is why producers usually avoid placing this marking on the packets.


Since not all of us pay attention to the list of ingredients (and in vain since one can find many interesting things there!), it would be useful to know what it shows and what shall be displayed on the packet.

Approved Food on BBC Food Fighters Jul-2011.m4vApproved Food on BBC Food Fighters Jul-2011.m4v
  • So, first of all, all the ingredients, including additives, are shown in descending order of the mass they had when a certain foodstuff was produced.
  • Then, if any flavorings had a place, it must be indicated, too.
  • All the allergens (if there are any) must be listed as well
  • In addition, each packet must have the name of the producer, its address, stocking instructions, and the mass of the foodstuff on it

If some of these are absent, you’d better look for another product instead.

Why Are Food Date Terms So Confusing?

Indeed, going to the store may sometimes turn into some kind of examination when we must correctly identify what this or that term means!

Photo by Thanos Pal on Unsplash

However, the reason for this is quite prosaic.

  • First of all, different manufacturers simply use different terms for indicating the same thing. For instance, did you know that, in fact, best-by, best-before, and best-if-used dates mean the same thing?
  • Then, we simply often confuse one term with another because they sound very similar (e.g. sell-by and use-by)
  • Most of those markings are too vague and it also causes certain problems
  • And finally, people find it very difficult to get any information about those marking meanings which makes the problem drow bigger

At least we hope that this brief summary will allow you to navigate through the food terminologies easier now so that your next visit to the shop will be far less stressful! No more questions like “What does the best-before date really mean?”!

Frequently Asked Questions

⭐ How strict is the use-by date?

This marking doesn’t show that the foodstuff shall be discarded right after the term goes by. Usually, it will be ok for a day or two.

⭐ CAN expired food kill you?

Expired foodstuff will hardly ever kill someone but it can indeed cause quite serious health issues like food poisoning. Besides, certain products (e.g. fish or mushrooms) can be rather dangerous if eaten spoiled.

⭐ How long is expired food good for?

It hangs upon the sort of foodstuff. The more durable products can stay edible for weeks and more past the expiry date, others will spoil after a day or two.

⭐ How long after a best-before date can you eat chocolate?

It depends on the kind of chocolate. Milk and white dessert will be ok within 2-4 months just like a bar with nuts or fruits/ berries whereas dark chocolate will be fine after a year.

⭐ Can you eat something after the use-by date?

You can but remember that it will be safe for 1-2 days only.

Written by
Elisa is a passionate cook who will advise you on healthy and delicious food topics! With her help, you will discover how to properly store and freeze food, as well as learn important nuances about preserving vitamins in your meals to make them stay nutritious.
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Best before vs use before dates - what's the difference?Best before vs use before dates - what's the difference?