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Use by and Best Before Dates

Use by and Best Before Dates

Pre-packed food is marked by the packer with a date to show how long it can be kept. These are either USE BY or BEST BEFORE dates. It is a criminal offence if you remove, alter or cover them up.

Use By Dates

Perishable foods which are likely to be a health risk after a short time must be labelled with a USE BY date. The food should remain fit for human consumption until that date, if it has been stored correctly.

You can only sell this food until the USE BY date. After that date you must not sell it, display it or have it available for sale. To do so is a criminal offence, regardless of the condition of the food. The maximum penalty is a fine of £5,000. If the food is also unfit for human consumption the penalty rises to a maximum fine of £20,000 and/or six months imprisonment. Therefore you must check all your perishable foodstuffs every day.

Foods with USE BY dates are normally refrigerated and include:

  • meat pies
  • fresh and cooked meats
  • soft cheeses
  • yogurts and other milk products 

Best Before Dates

Foods with a longer shelf life or those unlikely to be a health risk must be labelled with a BEST BEFORE date. The manufacturer has decided that the product will be at its best until this date, if it is stored correctly.

Examples of foods with BEST BEFORE dates:

  • canned foods
  • biscuits, bread, most cakes
  • frozen foods
  • dried pasta and rice

It is an offence to sell these foods after the BEST BEFORE date if the quality of the food has deteriorated in any way. It is a criminal offence if you remove, alter or cover them up.

Points to Remember

  • Carry out proper stock rotation
  • Make daily checks on perishable items
  • Do not remove, alter or cover up date marks
  • Do not sell or display food after its USE BY date
  • If you sell food after its BEST BEFORE date, make sure it is in good condition