So Many Labels, But What Does It Mean?

Oftentimes we find ourselves on the edge before throwing away the last slice of bread; the seasonal strawberries that are getting fuzzy, or the can of beans that’s been on the shelf for a little too long. 

The FAO confirms that close to 1.6 billion tons of food go to waste around the globe each year, due to a variety of reasons at points all along the supply chain. Mismanaging of labels can translate to 400,000 tonnes of food waste, simply because the lack of clarity between the terms use by, sell by, best-by, and expiry. 

So when is the right time to dispose these foods?  

We provide a simple breakdown of the terms to answer that:

  • Manufactured - The date an item is produced and sent to the market for sale. For baked goods and dairy, you’d like to purchase items closest to this date. The smell of freshly baked bread makes this fact a no-brainer!

  • Sell by - The date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management in your supermarket. This date often concerns vendors more than anyone, so you can take a break here.

  • Use by - The last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality suggested by the manufacturer. Surpassed the date? No worries, you’ve likely got a few days to spare if stored right, but at the expense of quality of course. 

  • Best by - The date referring to utmost quality of the item. Disregarding safety, you’ll find the food item at its best flavor before this date. Certain foods can pass this date and open up a whole array of other palettes, such as aging cheese or a tangier jar of fruit jam.

  • Expired - pretty self explanatory - don’t eat it! This is strictly for health purposes, and it consuming the item should be avoided. 

You be the judge!

As the item reaches its safety date, an indicator of whether the item is good to eat usually lies in the color, texture, and flavor of the product. However, there’s a clear distinction between perishable and non perishable items and whether it’s safe to eat past it’s best-by date. To put it in an example; would you consider eating the egg past it’s use-by date, or the long shelf life pasta past it’s expiry? 

The Look/Smell/Taste Check

Long life items are usually safe to eat past its expiry date, due to its chemical composition i.e. dehydrated state or packed with preservatives. In contrast to fresh items such as meat and poultry and dairy, it’s best to consume these items as early as possible to not only safe yourself from a health complications like a bad stomach, but to regain the taste of the item itself. 

So what now?

A number of contributing factors determine the state of our food items that can help salvage it past its best by date. This can be done through freezing or simply storing it in the right temperature and humidity. Although we have a range of recommended deadlines, it does not stop a lot of us from consuming the food item waiting its fate on the kitchen countertop. Unless the item is beyond the point of redemption (terrible odor or a layer of mould), consuming it makes sure that’s one food that finds itself from becoming waste - and that’s worth a look/smell/taste check!