Can you eat food after the ‘Best Before’ date?

There will come a time when unused food goes off and needs to be thrown out. Allowing food to go unused and become inedible is a huge waste of money. This is especially true when you are living on a tight student food budget.

Yet, there is no way around this. Inedible food must go in the bin. Throwing out food which can no longer be used is always the right move to make, regardless of the fact that doing so will serve as a clear-cut reminder that valuable money has gone to waste.

While allowing unused food to go off will place unnecessary strain on your student food budget,  an even larger problem arises when food which is perfectly edible is thrown out.

Experts at the Waste and Resource Action Programme note that 5 million tonnes of food is wasted each year in the UK, claiming that the average UK household wastefully gets rid of a massive £680 worth of edible food each year.

How, then, does this happen? And how can you ensure that such waste is avoided? The following overview of that facts about eating food after the best before date will help explain, as well as helping you get the most of your student food budget.

Don’t confuse “Best Before” and “Use By” dates

A misunderstanding of the shelf life of food is one of the main reasons why edible food is often wasted. Specifically, many people confuse their “best before” and “use by” dates. This often leads to edible foods being mistaken for out of date products which must be discarded.

The use by date is exactly what it says it is: a date by which that food must be used. Labeling food with a use by date is a safety measure, since eating any food which has passed its “use by” date could be hazardous towards your health. Stick to this date, then, religiously, and do not be afraid to throw out food which has expired. We all want and need to make our money go as far as possible, but you shouldn’t be willing to risk food poisoning for  the sake of getting the most out of your food budget.

The best before date however, is a different story. This date offers you flexibility. Think of it like this: the best before date is not telling you that “you had best eat this food before this date.” Instead, it is telling you that “this food will be at its best before – and indeed up until – this date.”

Unlike  use-by dates, best before dates are not a safety measure. They are a marker of quality. Eating food that is past its best before date will not put your health at risk. In the eye’s of the manufacturer, their product will not be in peak condition after this date, but it will be safe to eat. Moreover, while the texture and taste of some foods may be altered after this specified time, there are many that will remain in great condition long after the best before date has passed.

There is no clear-cut rule for judging how long after the best-before date an item of food will be in decent condition – this is literally down to personal taste. Generally speaking, however, half of the traditional shelf life of an item is a good yardstick to use. A bag of crisps with a best before date which is two months after the day of purchase, for example, should still be tasting fine one month after that best before date. Similarly, if the best before date of a tin of beans is two years after the day of purchase, those beans should still be good to eat three years later.

Those non-negotiable use by dates mentioned earlier will be seen on the labels of meat, fish, milk, or freshly made to eat now foods like sandwiches. These are all foods which will go off quickly. It is non-fresh foods – whether it be crisps, cereals, jam and honey, olive oil, lentils, or any tinned foods – which will bear the more flexible best before dates on their packaging. Be sure to think twice and check packets and the bottom of your tins before you bin any of these goods next time. You could be preventing yourself from an unnecessary waste of food and money.

Make savings by becoming a short date shopper

Being aware that eating food after the best before date is completely fair game will not just prevent any unnecessary wastage of cash and food. If you become a short-date shopper, you could see yourself making huge savings on your shopping and staying well within your student food budget.

Online supermarket sites such as Approved Food and Food Bargains are popular with short date shoppers. These online stores specialize in stocking clearance range items – that is, out of date products, including food and drink, which which have passed their best before date. These products are sold at a fraction of their recommended retail price.

Of course, shopping for food at sites like these will limit the number of student meal options you can add to your term-time menu, since the selection of clearance range foods will not be as broad as the in-date food found in your local supermarket.  Also, buying online will always involve a delivery charge. At Approved Food, this charge is £5.25 per 25kg, yet delivery discounts are available for orders larger than this. Buying in bulk, therefore, can be a good money-saving move. However, if you do decide to buy in bulk, be sure to pay extra special attention to specific best before dates and to the specific items you are buying.

Stockpiling four months worth of crisps which will only be in a worthwhile condition for two months could see that some of those bargain crisps ultimately go to waste. This is the very situation which being aware of best before dates is supposed to help you avoid.

While you should definitely take into account the shipping charges and the pros and cons of buying in bulk when short date shopping, you shouldn’t let that put you off. There there are definitely huge savings to be made by shopping this way. Approved Food boast that they can cut the usual amount of food money spent by some customers  by a massive 80%!

Extra tips

Here are some quick extra tips to help you save money on out of date food:

  • Give it a sniff – Smell your food. If it smells off then it is most likely off but it should be fine. Some people have eaten chicken 2 weeks past its sell by date before.
  • Don’t be scared – Be sensible with your choices of what to eat but don’t be scared. Be honest with yourself about whether you think something has gone off.
  • The day is an estimate – Put it this way, the food isn’t exactly going to go off at 12 midnight of the best before date. Anything that is just one day out of date is more than likely ok to eat.
  • Freezer is your friend – Freeze everything that you think will go out of date before you finish/eat it. This applies especially for bread.
  • Soup is king – If you have lots of veg that is looking old and wilted just chuck it in some boiling water with stock and make yourself a soup. Cooking the veg should make it ok to eat.
  • Let common sense win the day – Just use your brain and you should be able to make the right decision. You will be the one eating it so if you don’t like the look of it then bin it. Just make sure to remember what you are binning so that it won’t happen again.

The key to these savings – whether making the most of discounted clearance items or avoiding unnecessary waste – is understanding the facts about eating food after the best before date. Remembering to read labels carefully, not confusing your use by date and best before date labels, and keeping a keen eye out for clearance range bargains is a great way to save pennies and get the most out of your student food budget.

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