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Use by... Or Best Before... Learn How to Minimize Health Risks of Spoilt Foods!

Written: 11/26/2007

Sometimes I get lost between the "Use by...." and sometimes "Best Before..." for the expiry dates on food products. Often when you look at a food item, you ask yourself why only the year is shown as the date of expiration. What are the health risks if you go beyond the dates of expiration of certain food products?


The apposition of expiry dates on food products is just a safety step to ensure that consumers do not eat the food products beyond the dates shown as expiry dates. The quality of some foods depends on the presence of microorganisms in the foods which help us fight diseases, dietary benefits or sensory assets like taste. These qualities may be lost if you consume the food beyond the expiry date.

When a product looks, smells and tastes alright, this does not mean it is safe to eat. Always refer to the expiry date as a guideline for food consumption safety.

Also, keep in mind that certain products may expire before their expiry dates which is the case of meats. The color will turn to a grayish green which is not usually a good sign. Do not eat them!

On most food products there are usually two types of date: Date of Consumption and Date of Optimal Use. Note that these dates may have variants according to countries and the food manufacturers.

  1. Date of Consumption

    You can easily recognize these dates with the mention "Use by..." or simply the Expiration date and nothing else mentioned. This date must be respected at all costs, even more if the products have been left out for more than 2 hours. The consumption of such products after their expiry dates present great risks to your health. This type of expiry date applies to all food products which are sold in the fridge compartment of your supermarket or fresh products. Examples are:

    • Fresh Products: meat, fish, sea foods, chicken,...
    • Milk: Pasteurized or raw
    • Certain types of dairy products: yoghurt, certain types of cheese,...
    • Cooked dishes
    • Certain types of frozen foods (Depending on the type of treatment and the nature of the food).

    Normally you will not find such products which are already expired when you go to buy them because they are remove at once if their expiry dates have been reached.

  2. Date of Optimal Use

    You can differentiate this from the Date of Consumption by the mention of "Best Before..." or "BB" followed by the date.

    Date of Optimal Use does not have the "warning" characteristic of the Date of Consumption. You can consume the food products without posing major risks to your health. Only attributes like flavor and taste or dietary attributes can be lost. These are generally:

    • Sterilized products: Canned food
    • Lyophilized products: Coffee, Tea, Spices, Herbs...
    • Dehydrated products: Soups, Puree and milk powder
    • Certain types of frozen foods
    • Products with salad dressings
    • Smoked foods: Smoked meat, smoked fish...

Health Risks Associated with Spoilt Foods

You've eaten a yoghurt and you found out afterwards that it was expired. What are the health risks associated with eating that yoghurt?

At first, you will experience some discomforts due to microorganisms (microorganisms which cause illness) which are not very pathogenic. When a product expires, these microorganisms which are naked to the eye, multiply at an alarming rate and become concentrated in the expired food. Bacteria in question are all around us but only in high concentrations are they harmful. They can cause stomach pains, diarrhea, vomit, etc... But nothing that is alarming. The risks are more elevated to children, pregnant women and old persons.

Also some expired foods may contain bacteria and toxins which are harmful, even to a person in good health. The most common ones are salmonella infections. These are due to a bacteria called Salmonella. It manifests itself after a period of incubation of 8 to 48 hours. The incubation period is the time from the moment of exposure to an infectious agent until signs and symptoms of the disease appear. The symptoms associated with these infections are diarrhea, headaches, stomach pains, nausea, vomit, fever. You may catch these from the following expired foods: Meat, Chicken, Eggs and egg products, Dairy products, fish and sea foods.

How to reduce health risks from spoilt foods

  • Always verify the expiration dates on the food labels before buying foods. Many people think that frozen foods can be kept in the fridge for a long time without getting spoilt. This is not the case. Certain types of frozen foods do get spoilt after their expiry dates, even when kept in a fridge. Differentiate between the two types of expiry dates Date of Consumption and Date of Optimal Use for every type of foods. Shop Smart!

  • Do not keep frozen foods outside of a fridge for more than 1 hour. Always buy your frozen foods last when shopping and first thing, put them in your fridge when you get back home.

  • Do not defrost frozen foods at room temperature. Always defrost them in your fridge or in a microwave.

  • Throw expired foods away.

  • Buy foods with Date of Consumption in small quantities and eat them first, else you may forget about them.

  • Store your foods in order. The more ancient ones in front and the new ones after them.

  • Remove any packings before storing your foods.

  • Clean your fridge regularly and use it effectively.

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