Are 'Best Before' labels past their sell by date?

‘Best before’ labels on food were always a strange and nebulous idea. If you ate the food after that date, what would happen? Did it just mean that it wouldn’t be in the prime of life, or that it was covered in green fur and you should ask a pest control expert to get rid of it? And…couldn’t we decide whether it was ok just by trying it?

best before

Well, the European Commission plan to scrap Best Before labels entirely, in a bid to halt the 100 million tons of food waste we generate every year.

‘Best before’ usually applies to store cupboard food with a long sell by date, like rice, flour, pasta and tea/coffee. Sharon Dijksma, the Dutch Agriculture secretary said, with a refreshing directness:

‘The labels have nothing to do with safety but with quality. We think citizens can make sure themselves if, for instance, rice is still usable.’

Because Best Before labels are advisory, the EU is happy to get rid of them and only have sell by dates on fresh foods that are more likely to kill you outright, like eggs and meat.

But the UK government aren’t backing it at the moment, despite saying they’re open to a dialogue. A spokesman said:

‘We believe the connection between these labels and food waste requires further investigation to ensure the removal of date marks doesn’t have the opposite effect to that intended.’

*eats slightly out of date Sarson's vinegar. Nothing happens*


  • God
    I am glad they are scrapping them, as I cannot get supposedly Degree educated people to understand the difference between "Use By", and "Best Before". (Yes; this is how bad our education system has become).
  • Slacker
    I think this site has passed it's sell by date
  • panddda
    I have no problem using stuff that's a bit past the 'Best Before', but not sure about this. How will you know how old an item is? It would need to be replaced with another date of some sort so that you know how long it has been sitting on the shelf, or even how long it's been in your cupboard! A bag of crisps that's a month or two past the 'best before' will be fine. But a year or two... eugh.

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