- a blog about food and value

Ignoring use by dates

I suspect they'd survive a nuclear holocaust

The hummus expired on January 15. The rashers are a week out of date. The milk should have been thrown out four days ago. And I’m very shortly going to eat an M&S chocolate pudding with a use-by date of January 19.

Since implementing this new year resolution, I’m fine. I haven’t been sick, nor struck by a dodgy tummy. The food still tastes good, and I’ve drastically reduced my waste.

For years, my dad has extolled the virtues of smelling your food before you eat it. Does it smell sour, or gone off? If not, then it’s not. Dad’s hardly ever sick and I’m guessing it’s because he has cultivated a fierce immune system (he also spent nearly two decades working in the dairy industry, so he knows a think or two about food).

We all use our common sense with best before dates, recognising them as merely a guideline. But use by dates are, strangely, considered sacrosanct. In reality, they’re also a guideline, with food producers keen to cover their backs. One market stallholder told me that the anchovies I bought would be good for seven days in the fridge, but quietly whispered that they’re probably good for up to ten. You’ll know by the smell.

I know of people who simply throw out food without a second glance once it’s reached the end of its official life. Big, costly mistake. So, do you eat food that’s passed its use-by date?


  1. I totally agree with your dad!
    I cut the mould off cheese and am of the opinion that the cheese underneath is actually better than before.
    Yoghurts can be eaten after their sell by and even if milk is gone off it makes great brown bread when sour.

    Fish and chicken are probably the only things I would be very wary of but being honest both will smell to high heaven quick enough so there really will be no mistaking when they are for the bin.

    Jars and tins of food if unopened are still good long after the dates .. as you said food producers have to cover themselves. I work in the industry and would have no problem using my own judgement .. and for the record I have only had food poisoning once and that was in Laos on St Patricks day when judgement and taste had long left me !!!!

  2. Of course I eat out of date food. I would be run ragged from shopping if I abided by use by dates. I use skimmed uht milk from Lidl (its cheap and fat free) and Im still on a carton that has been open for two weeks. As long as food is kept in the proper conditions it should be fine long after its use by date. Give it a sniff and a look over, if nothing is green that shouldn’t be, then its grand. Having said all that, I would never risk fresh meat or fish. I have no worries about my health, but I would hate to kill Himself before his time.

  3. “Best before” means exactly that. I argee, use your best judgement. “use by”: that’s a different story and you need to be much more careful. Although I think some manufacturers label products as “use by” incorrectly. Are there guidelines any where on internet about this?

  4. I find that “use by” dates in Irish shops tend to be much shorter than the ones in my country. I don’t think this is due to products reaching the shelves later but that manufacturers encourage people to throw perfectly edible food.
    Why on earth is there “use by” dates on fruits and vegs??? Use your common sense and see if they go off before chucking them in the bin.
    Although…. if there weren’t best before dates on these products, supermarkets wouldn’t reduce them to clear and my shopping bill would be much higher, since I buy loads in the reduce to clear section
    Having said that, I’m very careful with meat, fish and unpasterised cheese. I had a bad experience with cheese (unpasterised farmer cheese) a few years ago and I wouldn’t wish it to anyone

  5. Definitely with foods like yogurt, milk and cheese you can tell when they’re bad by smell/appearance. You must be a bit careful cutting the mold off cheese, though, as mold will penetrate further into the cheese than you can see. The suggested consumption times for things like olives and pickles is ridiculous. Eat a huge jar of olives within three days of opening? Really? They’re preserved for a reason.

  6. Olives – three months later and my Epicure jar is fine.

  7. I use the same common sense with processed food that I use with the food I cook at home. If I think it is still good I’ll eat it, or cook with it, no problem. If you cook you learn to know food, and will have a pretty good idea when it’s gone off. I freeze things if I think I won’t have time to eat them within a reasonable amount of time, and not necessarily “on day of purchase” like most labels advise. Manufacturers have to write these dates and recommendations to safegard themselves legally I suppose… Or maybe there are more people like my husband out there, making their sons a sandwich of green cheddar thinking it’s blue cheese and sending it in their lunchboxes…
    (btw, my son ate the whole thing and didn’t even notice it…) 😮

  8. Your son will grow up fierce and strong Liana 🙂
    Agree that food does not need to be frozen “on day of purchase”. I’ll often bung it in just before the best before or expiration date

  9. I rarely look at best before dates. Food safety is just about common sense — I wouldn’t eat cooked meat that had been left on the side for hours (though in Asia I had many a luke-warm stir-fry from shady all-day vendors without trouble). Make sure things are cooked and kept hot or properly chilled and safely reheated and you’ll be fine.

    Re: mould penetrating cheese: even if the mould has penetrated the cheese, what of it? Is it actually bad for you?

    One last thing: you need to be careful with some canned things like garlic oil. Botuilsm is a serious disease which is caused by toxins produced by bacteria which breeds anaerobically and will grow in environments that aren’t sufficiently acidic. Commercial products are fine as precautions are taken against it but home-canned foods should be used soon.

  10. Watched a program on TV last night called The Peoples Supermarket…the amount of ‘good’ food that was recovered from supermarket bins was incredible. The person recovering the food was a chef and had invited industry people to a meal, where he cooked and served the recovered food. They had paid £150 a head for the pleasure!!! How mad is that??

    Today I bought a box of cheese crackers in Tesco that were passed ‘best before’ date by 2 days – they cost me 80cent and were perfect.

    Stop The Waste!!

  11. Eeek, half an hour ago I poured an almost full 1 litre carton of organic milk down the sink, it was use by yesterday and didn’t smell like its usual in date self. I also have some sausages and rashers also out of date which I forgot to freeze but they’ll be going to the starlings and seagulls tomorrow so I don’t feel so bad

    I regularly eat out of date fruit and vegetables. Bread after a thorough inspection but milk, cheese and meat I don’t.

    Anything best before i.e. processed stuff like pasta etc. yes, but the best before Jan 2011 malteesers I ate 2 weeks ago the chocolate smelt a bit sour and some biscuits can be a bit stale if they are past their best before too.

    Ok, frugal / non-food wasters, perhaps you can help me – I have a litre of buttermilk – use by tomorrow – any suggestions?

  12. Stephen, I too watched that programme – what they found in the Iceland bin was startling.

    One broken bottle of wine and they throw away the whole case/box – mental !

    Don’t think much of the actual “peoples supermarket” at the moment, maybe it’ll aprove but as one of the shoppers on the programme said it’s just like an overpriced convience store – I agreed

  13. Belles, I’ve used buttermilk that’s been out of date by two months with no problem. Perfect for making bread or pancakes.

    I’m with Peter’s dad – use your nose! And, at the cottage, we all eat cheese that has had mould cut off, even 22-month-old Little Missy. The hens go mad for the mouldy bits.

  14. Belle, type buttermilk recipes in Google and you’ll get loads of yummy recipes for bread, cakes, pancakes, scones, even pork cooked in buttermilk. It doesn’t have to be used straight away, you can keep it a few days after the used by date, as for yogurt it’s a live product (bacteria) so it will still be ok in a few days

  15. Ahem. I stand corrected on the anchovies. It’s downhill after five days. I thought he seemed ambitious…

  16. I’m the worst for that, the other week i used up a bag of dried chickpeas that went out of date in 2008, they were great, better than anything from a tin which i’d always go through pretty quickly…

  17. I wandered across here at random looking on opinions as to whether a carton of unopened UHT milk that is two weeks out of date can be used in cooking.

    At any rate when I first moved to the UK I had a hard job convincing my husband that you really don’t need to throw away fruits and vegetables simply because there is a sticker on them saying they are too old. Certain high end supermarkets seem to be the worst at this. I can buy a package of “perfectly ripe” avocados that are hard as rocks and don’t ripen enough to be edible until two weeks after the use-by date. Absurd.

    Where I come from (Midwest USA) none of this stuff would be in packages in the first place, let alone have an expiration date. I had never in my life seen a shrink-wrapped cabbage, and yet we seemed to manage to figure out when it was too old to eat. Not that we normally would buy so much that we can’t eat it all before it expires anyway, but that is another problem altogether.

  18. We often go into supermarkets in the evenings and buy their reduced meat that has to be sold by the end of the day. Went into Fresh in the Docklands a few weeks ago and 2 huge turkey breasts that will feed 6-8 people for €2. Nothing wrong with them and they went straight into the freezer as soon as we got home. Can’t remember what the full price was but I think it was about €8 or so! Big savings if you don’t mind using the meat the next day or freezing it!