“Use by” and “best before”

Ignorance, it turns out, is not bliss, if the volume of food thrown away by Kiwis each week is an indicator. We are wasting perfectly consumable food all because we misunderstand the labels on them, writes Rebecca Barry Hill.

Biscuits, crackers, pasta, soft drinks and canned goods are generally fine to consume weeks, months and sometimes years after the 'best before' date. Photo / Thinkstock

Biscuits, crackers, pasta, soft drinks and canned goods are generally fine to consume weeks, months and sometimes years after the ‘best before’ date.   Photo / Thinkstock

Here is a summary of an
 article written by Rebecca Barry Hill via Canvas magazine, Weekend Herald, May 24, 2014 issue.

My personal comments in italics.


Kiwis are a bunch of wasters.  Every year, each of us is estimated to throw out more than 60kg of food.  For those of us not making compost, that’s a lot of food going to waste.  This could be due to going to the supermarket without a shopping list or we’re chucking out perfectly good food telling ourselves “better to be safe than sorry”.  We are mixing up “use by” and “best before” labels.

Wasting food is also a behavioral and cultural thing.  If you look at Singapore and Germany, they waste so much less food.  Kiwis generally don’t like using their leftovers.  Personally there are just so many things you can do with leftovers.

From little Borneo girl’s personal tips – Use leftovers as toppings for pizzas, fillings for pies or ingredients for fried rice.  Pack into small meals for lunch at work.

How do we minimize food waste without compromising our health?

Correctly interpreting food labels is a good place to start.  “Use by” is simple enough, a definite safety measure for highly perishable items: fresh and cooked meats, seafood and prepared sales.  Products with a “best before” date relate to quality rather than safety.  Just because a product has passed its “best before” date does not mean it is unfit for consumption.

In our grandparents’ days there were no labels but people were more connected with food, learning how to smell a piece of meat and look at the color (to determine its freshness).  The kicker for us is that dates become irrelevant once food has been opened.  At that point we need to rely on the storage instructions and trust our noses.  If there’s no dent or rust, you can probably use tinned for for months past the “best before” date.

Planning your meals and creating a shopping list for only the food you need for that week’s meals is a good start to reducing waste.

Think of the starving children before you throw any edible food away.

I live very close to big major supermarkets as well as a “Reduced to Clear” a supermarket chain selling mostly goods near expiring to “use by” and “best before”.  

I have a bad habit of going to supermarkets without a shopping list unless I am pushed for time, otherwise I can easily take an hour going from aisle to aisle loading up my trolley because I cannot resist “specials” and then these items ended up in my storage pantry and then forgotten.  

I do not often shop at “Reduced to Clear” and only do so once in a while when I have nothing better to do on a weekend and coming out with unhealthy and unnecessary junk food like chips and nibbles.  Dog food are cheap here and Toby eats them quite quickly so “near expiry” dates do not bother us in this case.  I was just thinking in my head that it probably cost me $15 to $20 per week to feed my Tob (not counting his vet fees).  

Shoppers like me normally ended up throwing away unopened food.  I do not mind using expired “best before” canned or packed food but anything that is “best before” over a year old is something I would not risk eating.  I am sure I do still have quite a few items of that age to throw away sitting in my storage pantry in the kitchen.

Any fresh food such as cheese, milk or salads/greens are chucked away once they are over their “best by” dates as I won’t risk eating these for sure.  

What’s your shopping habits?

Are you strict with the “use by” and “best before” dates?


For those with pet dogs, how much do you spend per week feeding a medium sized four legged buddy?

Dog Eating-resized-600


Related article
Use it or lose it by Rebecca Barry Hill published in Canvas Magazine, Weekend Herald

7 thoughts on ““Use by” and “best before”

    • Definitely agreed that expired goods should be taken off the shelves. Supermarkets like “Reduced to clear” sells “near expiry” goods. Whenever expired goods are displayed for sale, there are signs to say “Expired items” and price reduced to go. The hidden message is of course “buy at your own risk”. 🙂 Thank you for your comments, Pretty Swan.

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jess. I’m guilty of wasting food – and I do shop with a list. I don’t take chances with meat and dairy (except yogurt – sometimes it’s OK even a week after the date) but I try to use packaged goods by the expiry date. We have a food bank at our church so sometimes I take my close-to-the-date items there (tho of course I buy items for the FB when I do my own shopping, too).

    I think we should all be more mindful and careful about not wasting what too many in the world go without.

    • Hi Vera, I used to throw expired food away even those ” best before” but no longer after I found out the difference better “best before” and “use by”. For meats if I buy in excess, I would freeze them fresh and use even after expiry but nothing more than a couple of weeks. The key is actually buy what I need and that would save my shooing bill quite a bit. Nice to hear about your involvement with Food Bank. Indeed sounds like the Vera I know. Blessings to you, my friend. 🙂

  2. We rarely really waste food. Even when we have leftovers we still use them somehow (if they are not too old!). In case there is too much rice left, my wife just makes next day fried rice, and so forth 🙂
    I guess it is very important to buy groceries when you are not hungry, otherwise you just put even more into the shopping bags (at least we tend to do so…)

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