Food Safety with Expiry Dates

Chris Wales, the SEQ Regional Coordinator for Universal Sodexho Pty Ltd shares an article on ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates for food, as well as a simple ‘Request for Extension’ Form. Thank you Chris!

All packaged foods with a shelf life of less than two years must have a use-by or ‘best before’ date stamped on the box, wrapper or bottle. This date gives you an idea of how long the food will last before it loses quality. A product will remain fresh and of good quality right up to the ‘best before’ date (and sometimes beyond) if it is properly stored, both at home and at the supermarket.

Check the ‘use by’ date when you buy food
The ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date means that food stored in the recommended way will remain of good quality until that date. However, these terms are not interchangeable. For example, it may be safe to eat foods after their ‘best before’ date, but they may have lost quality and some nutritional value.

Difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’
Foods with a shelf life of less than two years must have a ‘best before’ date. After the ‘best before’ date, some of the quality of the food may be reduced. Foods that should not be consumed after a certain date for health and safety reasons must have a ‘use by’ date and cannot be sold after that date. You will find ‘use by’ dates on perishables such as meat, fish and dairy products.

Some foods carry the date they were manufactured or packed, rather than a ‘use by’ date, so you can tell how fresh the food is. Breads and meat, for example, can be labelled with a ‘baked on’ or ‘packed on’ date.

You should:

  • Check the ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date when you buy food. 
  • Keep an eye on the ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates on the foods in your cupboards. Don’t eat any food that is past its ‘use by’ date, even if it looks and smells okay.

Extending your ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates
For those of us in the hospitality and catering industries it can be a costly exercise to dispose of food items that are so called ‘Out-of-Date’.  This however is not always the case; when a food item gets close to becoming out of date and you want to extend its shelf life it is a simple procedure to gain an extended ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date.

Let’s take the case of the herbs becoming out of date, here’s what you need to do.

  • Create a table – excel sheet showing:
    – The name of the product
    – The current ‘Best before’ ‘Use by’ date
    – A new ‘Best before’ ‘Use by’ date
    – Your suppliers details
    – Your company and location details
    – Your name
    – A sentence requesting a new extended ‘Best before’ ‘Use by’ date for the above / below products
  • Forward this request to your supplier

Upon receipt of your updated extended ‘Best before’ ‘Use by’ dates:

  • Using a food label write down the new dates and place the label onto the item in question.
  • Print off and store the response you received from the supplier. You will need this to prove to the EHO (Environmental Health Officer) or the Safety Manager, that the new dates have been approved by the supplier.

Hey presto! You can now save yourself and your company the trouble and cost of throwing items out.

Use a new request for each lot of items keeping the record of each time you have requested an extension of the use by date, enabling you to track which supplier and which items are reoccurring. You will find that the suppliers will start to be a bit more careful about what they send you.

Please note that every time you receive a delivery you are still required to check the ‘Best Before’ dates and ‘Use By’ dates – returning all items that do not comply with the above and company contract requirements.

Working out Use By Dates

Holbrooks – Worcestershire Sauce
On the lid there will be 4 numbers with a time sequence underneath ie:

This reads – made on the 35th day of the year 8 (2008), with the time of manufacture written underneath. Because it has a shelf life of three years it does not need a use-by date. ie it will expire on the 35th day of 2011 (1035).

Apito Flavouring Paste Imitation
Has a shelf life of two years and does not have a use by date on it. So find the date of manufacture and add two years to get your use by date.

You are welcome to download the simple Use by Date Extension Form Chris supplied.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (1)

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  1. The author has not proved to us that changing just the expiry date on the container of an item actually has any effect on what is inside the container.

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