Confusion about ‘best before’ dates leads to tons of food waste every year

“Best before” – and “expiration date” on food create confusion for consumers – and tons of waste every year, say researchers.

The British supermarket chain Morrisons will reportedly remove the expiry date from the milk packaging and instead encourage customers to sniff their milk to find out if it is fresh. The bottles will still carry the best pre-date, as milk does in New Zealand.

Morrisons is the first UK supermarket to make the change for milk, after scrapping the expiry date of some of their own yoghurt and hard cheese series by 2020.

Reports said 7 per cent of UK milk production was wasted and there are similar concerns in this country. A total of 8426 tonnes of dairy products are thrown away every year.

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* Here’s how long the ‘best before’ food should last

So how does use work at and best before dates?

Foods with a shelf life of less than two years are sold with a date.

Expiry dates are required for health and safety reasons to reduce the risk of people becoming ill, and are on perishable foods such as meat, poultry and delicacies.

Dairy products in New Zealand use best before-date.

Kendall Hutt / Stuff

Dairy products in New Zealand use best before-date.

Best Before Dates provides information on the quality of a food. The food can be sold and eaten after the best before date, as long as it is stored properly. But it may have lost some nutritional value and taste different.

“The best-before date for food is a quality indicator and not just a food safety issue,” said Steve Flint, a professor of food safety and microbiology at Massey University.

Still, Consumer NZ says New Zealanders throw out more than 220,000 tons of food a year, more than half of which could have been eaten.

Bread and vegetables make up the majority of this waste.

Flint said “the biggest problem we have is making sure consumers understand what they mean.”

“One suggestion would be to have a label to replace ‘expiration date’ that is ‘do not use after’,” he said.

So how long does food last?

It all depends on the water and water content of the food, its freshness and quality when you bought it, as well as how it had been stored, said Consumer NZ research writer Belinda Castles.

“In addition to date marking, it is also important to follow specific storage conditions on a product. For example, whether a product should be stored refrigerated or eaten within a certain period after opening.”


Data from Love Food Hate Waste shows that we discard 15,174 tons of bread a year.

Bread stays the longest in the freezer, but if the bread is in the pantry, it should be stored in the packaging and stored in a cool and dry place – preferably in a loaf pan if you have one. Stored properly, it can last up to a week in a closet.


Eggs stay up to three to five weeks in the refrigerator and can be eaten for two days after the best-before date.

Use the flow test to determine if they have gone off. If they do not sink into a pot of water, be careful.

Eggs stay up to three to five weeks in the refrigerator and can be eaten for two days after the best-before date.

Andy Jackson / Stuff

Eggs stay up to three to five weeks in the refrigerator and can be eaten for two days after the best-before date.

Dairy products

Dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, will smell sour and curl when turned off. Milk should be fine up to a week after the best-before date, provided it has been stored in the refrigerator at all times, while yogurt can stay in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Canned food

The Holy Grail in every emergency set around the country, many canned goods do not even have a date. As long as the can is not badly damaged, the food is safe to eat for years.


You do not have to throw away your secret treats if they have been sitting there for a while, you can safely eat chocolate after the best before date. It should last up to two years.

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