Food labels are date marked with either a ‘best before’ or ‘use-by’ date to tell you the safe shelf life of that food (how long the food can be kept before it begins to deteriorate).
All food with a shelf life of less than 2 years must be date marked.
Best before date
Foods labelled with a best before date are still safe to eat after this date as long as they are not damaged, deteriorated or perished.
The best before date means that you can still eat the food but it may have lost some of its quality after this date. You can expect these foods to still retain their colour, taste, texture and flavour as long as they are stored correctly.
Common best before foods include:
- cereals, grains and pulses
- frozen foods.
Is it legal to sell food after the best before date?
Yes, food can be legally sold after the best before date as long as it is not damaged, deteriorated or perished.
Foods labelled with a use-by date must be either eaten or thrown away by that date.
Even if the food looks fine, it may be unsafe to eat because the nutrients in the food may become unstable or there may be a build-up of bacteria and toxins.
Foods that commonly have a use-by date include milk, raw meat and sliced meats.
Is it legal to sell food after the use-by date?
No, it is illegal to sell food after the use-by date has passed.
If you notice a food business selling food passed its use-by date, please notify an environmental health officer in the local government area (external site) where the food business is located.
Storing and cooking your food
To make sure food lasts until its use-by date and to avoid food poisoning follow storage and cooking instructions.
Follow food storage instructions such as ‘keep refrigerated’ and ‘store in a cool, dark place’.
If a food product requires specific storage instructions to remain safe until its best before or use-by date, manufacturers have to include this information on its label.
It is also important to follow any preparation and cooking instructions shown on the label, including heating and defrosting times.
Following such instructions can help you to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present and to avoid food poisoning.
- Foods labelled with a best before date are often still safe to eat after that date.
- Food must be eaten or thrown away by its use-by date.
- It is illegal to sell food after the use-by date has passed.
Food Unit, Public Health
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.