Best before dates

How accurate are food ‘best before’ dates? Our food safety lecturer Dr Iain Haysom takes a closer look.

We all love food! But do we know how to best prepare and store it? Do we even really know when to eat it by? Senior Lecturer in Food Safety Dr Iain Haysom helps put our minds at rest in a recent interview with the Metro.

Do we actually know the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ when it comes to our produce? Iain helps us distinguish the two, saying:

"'Best before' dates – which are often found on cupboard staples like tinned soups, biscuits and crisps – are an indication of quality and flavour and can be used as a guide." 

Iain says that while cupboard staples may not be the best quality after their ‘best before’ dates, they don’t pose a danger. He adds:

"For example, your biscuit may be slightly stale beyond the 'best before' date but it will still be safe to eat."

But he stressed that fruit and vegetables often last a number of days past their ‘best before’ dates – so with these, it’s best to judge them by eye.

This, however, is not true for other fresh foods.

"'Use by' dates, which are found on fresh foods like fish and meat, are important to adhere to as they will tell you the latest a product can be consumed while safe. For example, if you consume fresh chicken after the use-by date, there will be a higher risk of microbial and pathogen growth on the product, which will mean a higher risk of food poisoning and other illnesses."

So what other mistaken beliefs do we have about food?

We all want to save some money when we can but Iain helps us to understand what is saving money and what is risking our health:


Iain clarifies:

“Eggs are a staple of many people's diets in the UK, but people are often unsure of how best to store them. Eggs are perfectly fine to be kept out of the fridge but must be kept dry, to avoid live bacteria growing on the shell. All eggs with the red lion stamp have come from laying chicken flocks that have been vaccinated against salmonella so they won’t pose a great risk if eaten past their date but should be eaten as close to the date as possible.”


Many of us – especially students – enjoy easy rice meals. But how do we ensure that we're staying safe? Iain says:

"I often get asked about how to store and consume rice properly. Most people are aware of the dangers of eating leftover rice and rightly so – tiny spores are present in rice that when left to cool can germinate into food poisoning bacteria. Leftover rice should be eaten within around 20 minutes of cooking, or quickly cooled and refrigerated and then reheated thoroughly if stored in the fridge."

Fruit and vegetables

Iain remarked that:

"There’s a common misconception that fresh fruit and vegetables should be kept in the fridge. In fact, some fruit and vegetables actually taste better if left out of the fridge. For example, tomatoes, which are an exotic fruit, will taste much better when at room temperature as they contain enzymes which are inactive in cold temperatures."

So remember, read the ‘use by’ date and store your food properly. Thank you, Dr Haysom, for making sure we all stay healthy in our kitchens – even if it is occupied by students!

Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.



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