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Best Before Date: What Does It Really Mean

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Why should we care about food waste?

Discover what the 'best before end' label means and how we can all act to stop food from going to waste.

We all want to do our part to protect the environment in whatever way we can. Maybe you’ve started reducing your paper usage or you’re turning off the tap and devices more often to save water and energy. Perhaps you even have a recycling bin at home, and you’ve made sure that everyone in the family uses it.

It’s time to pay attention to the other bin in the house. The one where food goes in. Every day good food is being wasted. According to UK charity WRAP, we waste 12% of the food that we buy with an average household of four throwing away £1,000 of good food each year. In 2021, 6.4 million tonnes of food waste was generated, equally £21.8 billion in value3 (2021 prices). This doesn’t impact only our pockets, but also our environment.

Every time we throw food away, we are wasting all of the precious resources that go into making it, including the energy, water, inputs like fertiliser and the labour it takes to farm and manufacture it. This waste has a big impact on our climate too, so much so that if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

What is the meaning of 'best before' date?

So, why are we wasting so much food? Most food gets thrown away simply because it’s not being used in time. That’s why in this article we’re taking a look at what the 'best before end' date actually means and how we can waste less food by using our senses to check its look, smell and taste. Just because food is past its prime, it doesn’t mean it should be destined straight for the bin. Here is why.

Most food labels show a 'best before the end or 'best before date' which indicates when food is at its best quality and is most fresh. After this date, you might find that the product is not in its optimal state, a little more or less crunchy (depending on the product) or a less intense taste, but it doesn't mean the product is bad or unsafe - it's still perfectly fine to eat.


What is the difference between ‘best before end’ and ‘use by’?

However, when it comes to the use-by date, we should be more careful. The Food Standards Agency has a simple way to help us make the distinction between 'best before end' and use-by dates. The 'best before end' date relates to food quality, while the use-by date relates to food safety.

Foods such as fresh meat, fresh fish, vegetables and dairy products such as milk, cheese and cream are considered highly perishable. This means they go bad in a short period of time and can be harmful to our health when consumed in that state. The use-by date is chosen based on scientific methods that reveal the point at which these products are no longer safe for us to eat, so you should never consume food past its use-by date.


How long after 'best before end' date can you eat food?

So, if we can waste less food by checking the look, smell and taste rather than just the 'best before end' date, how long can we keep food in our fridge past the date written on the label? It depends on the type of product, but here are a few useful rules of thumb.


How long do eggs last after the ‘best before’ date?

Eggs also have a longer life than the carton says. You can use them weeks past the 'best before end' date. Plus, this is a food that will let you know pretty quickly when it’s gone bad thanks to the notorious strong smell. Another good test is to put the egg in a cup filled with water. If it floats, that means it’s gone bad and it’s unfortunately destined for the bin.


Can you eat bread after the ‘best before’ date?

Bread can sometimes be consumed even a week past its 'best before end' date. As long as you store it in a dry, cool place and it hasn’t developed mould, rest assured you can still make your favourite sandwiches without rushing to the shop for a new loaf. Unfortunately, bread does tend to go stale quite quickly, but that’s the perfect opportunity to make toast and enjoy it with beans or jam. Don’t forget that you can keep bread fresh for longer if you store it in a bread box. If you still have some left after a couple of days, you can always wrap it and put it in your freezer for later.


Can you eat cereals after the 'best before' date?

You’re getting ready to enjoy your favourite cereals in the morning only to discover that the 'best before end' date on the package was a couple of days ago? The good news is that you can still eat cereals after their 'best before end' date if they don’t look, smell or taste out of the ordinary. As long as you store them properly and according to the instructions on the label, you can still finish the old box of cereals before starting a new one.


What does Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste mean?

The ‘Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste’ campaign aims to reduce food waste by bringing together some of your favourite brands in an effort to change product labels and make it clear that not all food that’s gone past its Best Before End date should be headed for the bin. This is why are rolling out the ‘Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste’ messaging on our cereal boxes in support of the Too Good to Go movement.

Nestlé has been working to reduce its food waste for more than a decade, so we are delighted to join forces and help stop good food going to waste.

So, make sure you check the look, smell and taste first before deciding whether to throw it away. It’s easy and it saves so many resources whenever you don’t let good food get wasted.

Look out for the Look Smell Taste Don't Waste label on our cereal boxes!

Next, find out more about our Better Planet initiatives and discover ways you can help us make a difference with these recycling tips.