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All You Need To Know About Food Expiry Dates

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

Over the last week, I’ve been racking my brain over how I can help people in any small way in our current crisis, whilst still socially distancing myself. I’ve worked in the food industry for nearly 30 years now and would like to offer my free services to anyone who has any questions about food, specifically with shelf-life, allergies, claims, nutrition and recipe ideas.

Food is always important to us and keeps us going during the day. We are always thinking about our next meal as soon as we have just finished one! Food makes us happy and I think we could all do with a bit of cheering up right now.

With our new unusual circumstances, it has become apparent just how reliant we are on the food chain and supply systems. With my background as a food scientist, I would like to offer you help and advice on making the right decisions and choices, to ensure you are staying healthy and also making sure that you are using up all the food that you bought so we have less food waste.

You may be having some food dilemmas at the moment and have lots of questions but who do you ask?

· What if I have a food allergy and can’t get my usual food brands?

· What do I feed my family when I haven’t got all the right ingredients in?

· How do I use up some ingredients that are going ‘off’?

· Can I use my eggs after their best before date?

There are so many areas to cover and a good place to start is on shelf life. I will do my best to demystify the terms “use by” and “best before” with a touch of common sense, so that we reduce food waste and ultimately reduce our trips, to supermarkets and shops.

This guidance is for everyone apart from the elderly, toddlers, young children, pregnant women, infirm and immunocompromised, who should stick strictly to the expiry dates.

First of all, there are essentially two types of date coding:-

Use By – this date is about safety of the product for fresh food like chilled meats, fish and ready meals. These are all kept in the fridge and must be eaten by its use by date. You should try and stick to this rule especially on fresh meat and fish.

Best Before or Best Before End dates are about product quality (including longer life products). These are mainly products in your larder or fridge, such as eggs, orange juice, hard cheeses and butter/spreads.

What about eggs?

Eggs bought in UK supermarkets, if kept chilled since they were purchased, can be used for a week after the best before date, but make sure eggs are cooked well. Alternatively, use in egg-based recipes that requires cooking, such as a quiche or a cake and not use it raw. Best practise is to crack eggs into a cup first and discard any that look or smell off.

What about spreads & yogurts?

Spreads and yogurts can be kept for a little longer than their expiry date, especially if yogurts haven’t been opened yet. If your spread tastes rancid or the yogurt does turn mouldy, then you should not use it.

What about bread?

If bread is starting to get old, you can wrap it up well and keep it in the freezer; make breadcrumbs or make a delicious bread pudding.

What about milk?

Milk can be used after its expiry date, the best way to check is to smell the milk or if you pour the milk and it’s curdled, then it is ‘off’. If you have too much milk, you can also freeze it (whilst still in date) or make sauces, custards, pancakes, Yorkshire puddings.

What about products that you open from the larder such as mustards, jams and mayonnaise?

There will be guidance on the pack for these, that will state something like ‘once opened keep in the fridge and use within xxx’. However, usually these products can be kept longer, but if it tastes rancid or looks unusual, or has mould on it, then you should stop using it. Food cupboard ingredients can be kept for longer too such as biscuits, flour, Marmite and Bovril.

What about fruit and veg?

Most loose fruit and veg that you buy, don’t have any recommended expiry dates. So, you need to be guided by the look of the fruit. Fruit will start to get a wrinkly skin and become quite mushy when it starts to go bad or may even have mould on. For example, in my fruit bowl this morning I noticed that fruit had started to go ‘off’. The fig had mould on it so it couldn’t be eaten, the tangerine had started to go ‘off’ but it was worth peeling it to see what it looked like inside. If it was really dry, it really won’t taste nice, so then it’s time to discard it in compost bin.

Can I freeze fruit & vegetables?

Not all vegetables can be frozen but sometimes you can use the product in a different way so it can be frozen.

Spinach - can be frozen but once thawed it is very mushy and not appealing at all. You could make a soup and add your spinach to the soup, blend it and then freeze your soup into portions. Take out a portion at a time when you need it.

Potatoes – do not freeze well but you could blanch them first then freeze them. One of the better ways of freezing potatoes is to make mash and then freeze it or even make the whole dish i.e. shepherd’s pie and then freeze them into portions.

Fresh fruits can be frozen, its best to freeze them on a tray and then once frozen, store in a bag or any plastic containers. Alternatively, you can cook them and then freeze or make jam with it.

For more tips and questions please contact me on

If you’re stuck for recipe ideas, send me a list of your products or pictures of the food in your larder/fridge and I can come up with a few ideas for you.

Top tip – look through your food supplies every morning, use some of your senses (sight, touch and smell) to decide what you should use up and plan your meals accordingly.

Stay in, stay safe, and enjoy your meals everyone!

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