Use-by dates on food

We take a look at the food-dating game.

Looking at best-before date on milk bottle in supermarket.

Use-by, best-before, packed on... we explain the differences and what you need to know.

Use-by

Use-by dates are required for health and safety reasons to reduce the risk of people getting sick from food that’s gone bad.

You’ll find use-by dates on perishable foods such as meat, poultry and deli products.

As long as food is stored correctly and hasn't been opened, it should be safe to eat before its use-by date. However, after that, a food can't legally be sold and shouldn't be eaten.

Best-before

Best-before dates are used to provide information about food quality. Most foods will have these dates.

15jun use by dates salmon
As soon as you open any packaging, the shelf life becomes the same as if the product was unpackaged.

Food can be sold and eaten after its best-before date as long as it’s been stored properly. However, it may have lost some nutritional value and might not taste the best.

Products with a shelf life of two years or more, such as canned foods, don’t need a best-before date.

As long as cans are stored and sealed properly, they should last a long time. That said, if there are any signs of deterioration, don’t eat the contents.

Baked and packed

Baked on and packed on are the other dates you'll see on foods.

Breads with a shelf life of less than seven days can have a baked on date.

Packed on dates on other foods tell you how long the product’s been sitting on the shop shelf.

This information isn’t mandatory but it’s handy for knowing how fresh something is – such as coffee beans.

Products that deteriorate, such as olive oil, may have a pressed on or harvested on date. This information lets you know how old the oil is – the fresher, the better.

How long will it last?

How long it’s safe to keep a particular food depends on several factors: its water and protein content; its freshness and quality when you bought it; how it’s been stored; and the pathogens likely to grow on the food. Our table provides a guide to how long some common foods remain safe in your fridge once the packaging has been opened.

Product How long it lasts
Bacon 1 week
Butter 8 weeks
Camembert or brie 1 week
Cooked meat or poultry 3 to 4 days
Cottage cheese (opened) 3 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks
Fresh fish 1 to 2 days
Fresh poultry 1 to 2 days
Hamburger meat 1 to 2 days
Luncheon (opened) 3 to 5 days
Mayonnaise 8 weeks
Pizza 3 to 4 days
Roast meat 3 to 5 days
Sausages 1 to 2 days
Shellfish 1 to 2 days
Soups 3 to 4 days
Steaks 3 to 5 days
Stews 3 to 4 days
Yoghurt (opened) 3 days

Food waste

Kiwis throw out more than 220,000 tonnes of food a year, more than half of which could have been eaten. Bread and vegetables make up the majority of this waste.

Planning meals to make the best use of food in your pantry and fridge can cut your food waste footprint. Understanding dates on foods makes it easier to avoid needlessly throwing things out.

Member comments

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Previous member
28 Feb 2019
Is it still ok on the use by date?

Your article states good will be fine before the use-by date, but what about ‘on’ the day itself?

Richard W.
19 Feb 2019
Dates on frozen meat

I've seen frozen turkeys in the supermarket without a best before date, useby date, or a date it was packed. So there is no way to tell how old it is. Is this permitted as meat has a limited life in the freezer? The supermarket couldn't provide me with these dates.

Consumer staff
25 Feb 2019
Re: Dates on frozen meat

Hi Richard,

The Food Standards Code specifies that most foods be marked with either a use-by-date or a best-before date. The exceptions are bread, which can be labelled with a baked on or baked for date, and foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, such as some canned foods.

There are no specific requirements for foods that are frozen but as a consumer I think it’s reasonable that retailers provide a date on a frozen turkey so you can be informed about how long it’s been in the freezer for.

Kind regards,

Belinda - Consumer NZ writer

Amanda G.
22 Oct 2018
Waitoa Chicken

I recently bought a Waitoa free-range butterfly chicken. The pack was marked with a Best Before date. Shouldn't this have been a Use By date?

Consumer staff
24 Oct 2018
Re: Waitoa Chicken

Hi Amanda,

Chicken, and other raw chilled meats, will normally have a best-before date because they are cooked before eating. Cooking ensures they are safe to eat. You’ll mainly see use-by-dates on chilled ready-to-eat foods that could grow harmful bacteria. It’s illegal for food to be sold after its use-by date.

Cheers,

Belinda - Consumer NZ writer

Peter H.
02 Jul 2017
Expiry date on tins of tuna

Where can I find the expiry date on a tin of tuna?
Sometimes, the supermarket has tins of Sealord tuna on special. How can I tell if this is old stock?
Or if I find a tin in the back of my cupboard, how do I tell if it is too old?

Thanks

Previous member
03 Jul 2017
Re: Expiry date on tins of tuna

Hi Peter,

Not all canned foods will have a use-by or best-before date, so we'd suggest rotating your stock and using the older cans first. Cans with a shelf-life of more than 2 years don’t need a best-before date. But foods that need to be eaten within a certain time while it’s still safe must have a use-by date. As long as the cans are stored and sealed properly, they should last a long time.

Kind regards,
Fonda – Consumer NZ staff