Why do foods have expiration dates

The best before date (best before date) is not the same as the use by date

What do best before and use-by dates mean?

By definition, the best before date (BBD) indicates the point in time up to which the manufacturer guarantees that the unopened food will retain its specific properties, such as smell, taste and nutritional value, if stored correctly throughout. For some foods, the shelf life depends on certain conditions, such as the storage temperature. This must then be stated on the label.

In the case of foodstuffs with a shelf life of less than three months, the day and month must be specified, for foods with a shelf life of 3 to 18 months, the month and year. For foods that have a shelf life of more than 18 months, it is sufficient to indicate the year. No best-before date is stipulated for certain foods, for example fresh fruit and vegetables, wine, drinks with an alcohol content of 10 or more percent by volume, chewing gum, sugar, table salt or vinegar.

Food that perishes very easily and can pose an immediate health risk after a short period of time are marked with the use-by date. The use-by date indicates the last day on which the food can still be sold and consumed.

Can I still eat or drink food after the best-before date has expired?

If the originally sealed packaging has been stored correctly, the product can often still be enjoyed after the "expired best-before date" and is not automatically spoiled. In addition, some manufacturers set the best before date to be on the safe side. If the best before date for the yogurt from the refrigerator has expired, that does not mean that the dairy product is bad and can no longer be eaten.
Whether products are still edible or not can be checked with your own senses: See, smell and taste - trust your own senses! This is usually also done with foods that do not have a best-before date, for example fruit, vegetables or bread from the bakery. Can you recognize mold, does it smell unpleasant, does it taste sour, or tingles on the tongue? Then hands off!

Danger: If a food package has already been opened and will continue to be stored, the best before date no longer applies. This only applies to the unopened packaging. After opening the packaging, oxygen, moisture and microorganisms can cause the food to spoil more quickly.

What is the difference to the use by date?

A use-by date is stipulated for particularly perishable and sensitive foods - for example for minced meat or fresh fish. Packaged, perishable foods with the express label "to be consumed by" may no longer be sold after the specified date has passed. After the use-by date has expired, germs can pose a health risk. Therefore, the food may then no longer be eaten. For these products, the use-by date indicates the end of their shelf life - these foods must be consumed in good time and, if possible, before the use-by date is reached.

What do the storage conditions mean?

In certain cases, near the best before date or the use-by date, there is an indication of the storage and use conditions for the packaged food. Instructions such as "store in a cool, dry place" or "protect from heat and moisture" should be followed to ensure the shelf life. It is also very important to adhere to the cooling recommendations on the packaging, for example 2 degrees Celsius for minced meat.

Even for opened foods, such as packaged fruit juices or milk, storage conditions and the consumption period must be specified in certain cases, for example by means of notes such as "Consume within two days after opening" or "Can be kept refrigerated for three days when opened". Information such as "store in a dry and cool place" for example for biscuits and coffee or "store in a dry place and protected from light" for example for bread unfortunately do not provide precise recommendations. Manufacturers also interpret these formulations differently; in case of doubt, only a request from the respective manufacturer can provide clarity.

Can foods still be sold if the best before date or use-by date has passed?

In the trade, an expiry date does not trigger a sales ban. These foods can therefore be resold after the expiry date. However, it must be ensured that the goods are in perfect condition. As soon as the best before date has been reached, the manufacturer is no longer liable, but the responsibility is then borne by the food company or grocer who puts the goods on the market.

It is common practice in many shops that these foods are offered separately, for example at one reduced price or provided with a notice. But that is not required by law. However, if the store offers a discount, there are rules for that Labelling: An indication in percent is not sufficient. The Price Indication Ordinance specifies that prices must be clearly assigned to the offer, easily recognizable and clearly legible or otherwise easily perceptible.

After a Use-by date the food may no longer be sold.

This content was created by the consumer centers North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria for the network of consumer centers in Germany.