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What is a Best if Used by Date?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Best if used by or best by, followed by a date, is one of the ways in which food manufacturers can make suggestions about how likely the quality of a product will remain consistent. This specific term is not meant to suggest that the food product is unsafe after the best if used by date. Instead it refers specifically to quality under ideal and appropriate storage conditions for that food. It should be noted that most best by dates are only appropriate so long as the food remains unopened. Once the food is opened, it tends to have a much shorter shelf life and will deteriorate more quickly.

For example, even a can of cola can have a best if used by date. In fact, many cans of diet soda are likely to carry this label, since artificial sweeteners tend to degrade more quickly than sugar and corn syrup. Yet, if you open up the can of soda, even if you store it in the fridge, it will begin to lose its pleasant fizz nearly right away. Within a day the cola will be flat, and the date no longer applies.

Some people contend that the best if used by date is one designed by clever manufacturers so people will discard anything past the date, regardless of whether it still might be good. There are some that argue this ensures people will regularly replace items they haven’t even used. There is some weight to this argument given the perception of the best if used by label.

A May 2006 article in The Journal of Food Science, explains how people were tested with products that were still safe but past the best by date. It was more common for people to perceive foods past their date as “bad,” when this was not the case. Taste acceptance, considering the food was still good, increased when people ate foods that were still within the date range. This doesn’t indicate a mass conspiracy on the part of food manufacturers to create freshness dating in order to provoke more sales. Yet it does tend to benefit food manufacturers.

There is a significant difference between the best if used by date and use by dates. Use by is not a freshness indicator but a recommendation regarding food safety. Any foods that have a specific use by date should be discarded after the date. If you freeze these foods before the use by date, their life can be extended. Don’t freeze them the day of or after the date since they may have spoiled.

If you’ve stored your food properly, the best if used by date can also be a guarantee that food should remain at peak quality. If you open up a pack of crackers with a best by date that has not yet passed and they are stale, there’s no reason why you can’t return them to the grocery store. From time to time, poor packaging or incorrect dating yields food that goes bad before the date on the label. Since food manufacturers must stand by these dates, returning food that is not in best condition prior to the date is both acceptable and reasonable.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon346256 — On Aug 27, 2013

If the expiry date is august 13, I'm wondering whether we should use the product until August 31st or July 31st.

By anon234974 — On Dec 15, 2011

This article only discusses the food itself, but we can't forget about the packaging. Some of those best by dates are because the packaging may degrade and affect the food. The example can of soda opened past its date may taste metallic. That metal taste can't be good for us. Food acids do interact with metal and plastic containers.

By anon202139 — On Aug 01, 2011

The way I look at it, the "best if used by" date is referring to food quality, not necessarily food safety. I would still eat certain foods after that date, as long as they still looked and smelled okay. Many foods pick up odors from other foods or degrade a little in flavor or quality over time, so that particular date probably means it's still perfectly edible for a little while, but just not at the peak of freshness.

If it says "Use by (date)", then there could be a question of actual spoilage. Some foods just don't last forever, especially after they've been opened. That "use by" date is usually pretty generous, since many people will have already used it up long before it's had a chance to go bad.

The "sell by" date is not really aimed at consumers, but more at store managers. The food manufacturer is essentially saying it can only guarantee the quality of the product until that day. The store manager can decide to discount it for quick sale or throw it out and order newer stock.

By anon139220 — On Jan 04, 2011

Can any one clarify my doubt?

What is the definition of "use before date". What is difference between "use before date" and "Expiry date".

Thanks in advance.

By anon131228 — On Dec 01, 2010

i had one a month past the date, all of it tasted fine except the cream part was like thicker. Like i didn't know they were expired until i bit into it, so there's a definite difference ahh. so i decided against eating it, but I'm sure it was safe to eat but definitely not normal. hah

By anon108879 — On Sep 04, 2010

I once ate snack chips (of the corn type) that were two years expired. My mom had found them behind the couch and put them on the kitchen counter in order to throw them away the next she went to the garage (she had no bags for the kitchen garbage pail). She didn't think I'd see them and go "yum" while she was upstairs.

Either they were fine or i have the greatest immune system. Either way, no ill effects on my health. (but don't do that though!)

By anon86154 — On May 24, 2010

I am sure use by dates are there purely for safety, -- and the manufacturers'!

There have not always been "use by" dates, just the old tried and tested method of: does it smell good? Yes. I anything growing on it? No. Then it's fine! We are too wasteful.

By anon47572 — On Oct 05, 2009

Does the same apply for baby carrots? It says "best if used by" and it's after that date. Are they still edible? ; w ; (Thank you)

By anon18167 — On Sep 16, 2008

I was wondering if a box of hostess cupcake that not open are still good to eat when it says best by?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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