Date marks give you a guide as to how long food can be kept before it begins to deteriorate, or may become unsafe to eat.
There are two types of date markings:
- use by dates and
- best before dates
The food supplier is responsible for placing a 'use by' or 'best before' date on food.
Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.
The majority of foods have a 'best before date'. You can still eat foods for a while after the 'best before date' as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a 'best before date' can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.
The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a 'baked on' or 'baked for date' if its shelf life is less than seven days.
Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, e.g. some canned foods, do not need to be labelled with a ;best before; date. This is because it is difficult to give the consumer an accurate guide as to how long these foods will keep, as they may retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil.
If specific storage conditions are required in order for a product to keep until its 'best before' or 'use by'date, suppliers must include this information on the label, e.g. ‘This yoghurt should be kept refrigerated’.
FSANZ video which explains the difference