The Definition of “Best Before Date”

The Food Date Vocabulary Problem

Shelf Life of Eggs

Shelf Life Terms

When you purchase food items at your local grocery store, you may notice a printed sell by date, use by date or best before date on the packaging or item itself and wonder what that date really means. Here at Eat By Date, we are doing our best to make sure that you, the conscious consumer, are fully informed about true “shelf life” of the most popular food items. As we have learned, most food is still edible after the expiration date. When reviewing the printed date on the item in question, you may find it interesting to learn that:
  • Food Can Be Sold After Date Expires – Stores are not legally required to remove food from the shelf once the expiration date has passed.  The expiration dates are strictly “advisory” in nature and are left entirely to the discretion of the manufacturer, thus not truly indicative of an items true Shelf Life.[1]
  • Food Dates Are Not Required By Law – With the exception of infant formula and baby food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require food companies to place dates on their food products. The only requirement is that the food is wholesome and fit for consumption.
  • Laws Vary By State – States have varying food dating laws. For example, many states require that milk and other perishables be sold before the expiration date, while others do not.
Below is a standard definition for “Best Before Date,” but please see the pages for specific items to know how long each product may be used after the Best Before (or Best By) Date.

So, what is the “Best Before Date” of a food item?

The “Best Before Date” is, according to the manufacturer, the last date by which a products flavor or quality is best, the optimal time of its shelf life for quality. As noted above, the product may still be enjoyed after the “best before date.” Additionally the manufacturer may call this the “Best if Used By” date or the “Best By” date, which indicates that the quality of food might diminish after that date, but it is still good to eat and the shelf life is still active.

How long do foods last beyond their best before date?

To find out how long foods really last, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or search below!

Search the Shelf Life Guide!