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  • Writer's pictureKathy

Understanding Expiration and Best-Before Dates

For one reason or another, many of us may have stocked up on extra food the last few months. Your pantry may still have a bit of a backlog – more than your family would normally consume. As the weeks tick by, those shelf life dates may be looming and you are wondering how to avoid creating your own personal food waste disaster by throwing it all away.

According to Food Authority NSW, all food with a shelf life of less than two years must be date-marked to inform consumers.

Fresh produce and packaged foods are marked with one of two dates: a use-by date or a best-before date. There is confusion surrounding the difference of these two types of dates. To help us all save food while staying healthy- I briefly explain them below.


A use-by date signifies safety. A marked use-by date indicates the latest date a food may be consumed for health and safety reasons. ‘Use-by’ is marked on highly perishable foods, such as meat or other items that are classified as high risk upon expiration. It is advised that foods beyond their use-by dates should not be cooked, frozen or consumed. They should be thrown away.


A best-before date is used to indicate quality rather than safety. The date signifies the end of a product’s peak quality. Best-before dates are found on food items such as fruits and vegetables, dried pasta, rice, tinned and canned foods.

It is not unsafe to eat a food past its best-before date. You may simply notice some quality, flavour or texture has been lost.

Shelf Life Dates and Food Waste:

Confusion between the dates explained above are huge contributing factors of food being unnecessarily thrown out. While use-by and best-before dates do play a part in ensuring we don’t make ourselves sick, there are some foods which can be safely eaten even after their dates have long gone.

Here are a few easy ways to extend the shelf life of food items, which helps to prevent unnecessary food wastage:

  1. Choose between your fridge and freezer wisely: Buying meat in bulk is great for your pockets. If you’re not going to use it all before the use by date, then freeze the rest in portions. Defrost as you require.

  2. Learn some basic food saving recipes – Soups, stocks, jams, curries, stir-fries, stews and compotes are great ways to use up produce that is a little old. For example, our stir-fry recipe is a great way to use all your veggie bits and bobs while smashing out a quick mid-week meal!

  3. Blend and freeze: Vegetables and fruits can be frozen whole (quick tip- peel bananas first), cut into pieces, blended, pureed, mashed and then portioned in ice-cube trays or bags for freezing. Veggie and fruit blocks are great for pasta sauces, soups or smoothies.

  4. Sniff: As mundane as this may sound, give your “expired” foods a sniff to see how they smell. If they smell fine, they most likely are!

  5. Keep old herbs: Chop and freeze old and wilted herbs with oil in ice-cube trays. I love using these cubes as a flavour boost when making a stir fry or pan-frying pretty much anything.

  6. Freeze your nuts: Oils in tree nuts (and seeds) go rancid very quickly when exposed to heat, light and air. How many times have you thrown out an unfinished packet of nuts because they had been sitting in your pantry for a while and had gone all soft? Nuts will last four to six months in the fridge and six to twelve months in the freezer. They taste crispier and sweeter when stored properly. (so anyone who bought ‘extra’ nuts back in March- maybe throw them in the freezer!)

Anyone who has been thinking they want to start making some environmentally friendly changes in their life but isn’t sure how – tackling your household food waste is a great place to start. Simple to action without fancy equipment, food waste happens in every household. Food waste is arguably the biggest pollution issue on the planet, surpassing the emissions from both industry and cars! If you would like more information on why I keep saying Food Waste is such a big deal- check out this cheat sheet published by the ever passionate and practical Sarah Wilson.


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