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Understanding best-before and use-by dates to reduce food waste

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Food use by dates, best before dates, sell by, and manufacturing dates on labels can be confusing and lead to good food being binned before it is necessary.

The use-by date is the most important date to look for and pay attention to. This date appears on the most perishable of food types such as meat and fish. If food is past its use-by date, that is when it can be dangerous to eat. Food past its use-by date can not be legally sold in Australia.

The best-before and sell-by dates on labels are simply a guide to when the food is at its freshest or highest quality. If these dates have passed, the food can still be okay to eat.

Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, e.g. some canned foods, do not need to be labelled with a best before date because they may keep at a good quality for many years and are likely to be eaten well before they spoil.

Here are some tips for food that is often thrown away when it still could have been safely used:

Eggs – if you’re unsure how fresh your eggs are, pop them into a container of cold water while still in their shells. If they float, it’s a sign that they are no longer good to eat. Fresh eggs will lie flat on the bottom or will tilt slightly up towards the surface.

Fruit and vegetables – mouldy produce should be composted or discarded, but otherwise, super ripe fruit or floppy, limp or wrinkly vegetables can still be used in many ways, either raw, pickled or preserved, or in cooking. You can also freeze vegetables and fruit that are past their prime to make stocks and smoothies later. Try turning limp carrots and celery crisp again by soaking them in cold water in the fridge.

Milk and other dairy products – your nose is your best guide here, if it smells okay, it’s likely to be okay to eat or drink. Take a small taste first and remember that you can also choose to use it in smoothies or baking.

For more advice on storing foods so that they last longer, check out Love Food Hate Waste Victoria.

To learn more about food labelling in Australia, check out the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

Join our Rethink Food Waste Facebook group – we’d love you to join the discussion!

Find more ways to reduce all kinds of waste when at home by visiting our At Home page.