The best before date is often about the quality of a product rather than safety but most people do not know this and will often throw out items that have passed that date.
The best before date, sometimes shown as BBE (best before end), has to do with quality and not safety.
This means that after the best before date listed on a product, it will still be safe to consume but may not be at its best.
Best before dates appear on a wide range of foods including:
Note that the best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the packaging.
Foods that are older than their best before dates can be determined just by using sensory cues. This means you can use your five senses to determine if the food is okay to eat.
For example, you could look for visible mould on bread, have a taste to see if biscuits/crisps are stale, or sniff some dairy products with a best before date to see if they have gone sour.
Note that the ‘sniff test’ is only appropriate for testing if food with best before dates is safe to eat. For food with best-by dates, this method will fail because humans can't pick up microbes that may be pathological in the food.
It is up to manufacturers to decide whether to apply a use-by date or a best before date on their products.
This usually depends on factors like how the food is made and how risky it is.
It is important that you check the date labels on food to see whether it has a use-by or best before date.
For example, milk with a use-by date, it can't be used past the date listed even if it smells fine but if it has a best before date instead, it can be sniffed to see if it has gone bad.
If you have issues with your sense of smell and cannot use it to detect if food with a best before date has gone bad or stale, ask someone else to check it for you.
If you can't, then it is better to stick to the best before date on the packet as the manufacturer has determined it to be the date at which the food is at its best.