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'Use By' and 'Best Before'

The Food Authority of NSW sets out some guidance on the difference between use by and best before dates.


'Use-by' means the date after which food should not be consumed for health and safety reasons.

Do not collect food which is past its 'use-by' date.

Food donors should not donate food past its 'use-by' date.

  • A 'use-by' date tells the consumer the date by which the food must be eaten or thrown away.
  • Food may be unsafe to eat after the 'use-by' date expires, even though spoiling may not be visible.
  • Nutrients in the food may become unstable after the 'use-by' date expires, which can have an adverse affect on the health of people who are ill or unable to eat typical food.
  • Foods date marked 'use-by' must not be sold or distributed after this date because the food could pose a health or safety risk.

Examples of foods frequently marked 'use-by' include perishables such as ready-to-eat chilled foods like smoked salmon, sliced ham, some smallgoods and shaved meats. They also include special dietary foods that provide the sole source of nutrition.


'Best before' means the date after which the food — if stored in accordance with any stated storage conditions — will remain fully marketable and will retain any specific claimed qualities.

  • Foods marked 'best before' are safe to be consumed after that date provided the food is otherwise fit for human consumption. These foods can be expected to retain their colour, taste, texture and flavour, provided they have been stored correctly.
  • Foods date marked 'best before' may be sold or distributed after this date, provided the food is not deteriorated or perished.

Examples of foods frequently marked 'best before' include canned foods, cereals, biscuits, sauces, chocolate, sugar, flour and frozen foods.

Information for food donors and charities

  • Businesses donating food should avoid giving food that is close to its 'use by' date.
  • Charities that receive food that will pass its 'use by date' before distribution are urged to throw the food away.
  • There may be some loss of quality in food purchased or distributed after its best before date, but, provided it is otherwise fit for human consumption, it is not illegal to sell or distribute this food, nor should there be any safety risk from eating it.

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