Many people are unsettled by the best-before date and tend to throw away perfectly edible products – a completely unnecessary form of food waste. Depending on the product, food can often be eaten for days or months after passing the best-before date. If you trust your own senses, you can not only reduce food waste, but also save money.
For fear of health hazards, consumers keep throwing perfectly edible food into the trash. By simply checking the appearance, smell, and taste of the food, however, it is possible to quickly determine whether a product is still edible or needs to be disposed of.
Most foods are labelled with a best-before date. In contrast to the use-by date, the best-before is not an expiration date. Legally it simply defines the date up to which the food item retains its specific properties under appropriate storage conditions. Such properties that can change during storage include colour, consistency, texture, and taste. However, none of these are criteria for spoilage. It is simply the manufacturer’s guarantee that the product is in perfect condition until the best-before date is reached.
When the best-before date is reached, the food does not spoil from one day to the next. It is possible, for example, that the aroma of a spice mix is less intense or that some water settles on the yoghurt. While these foods have lost some of their quality, they are still perfectly edible. After the expiration date, it is up to you to decide whether a food item is still edible. Spoiled food is usually quite easy to identify. The features indicating a spoiled product are mould, putrid smell, or a sour, atypical taste. An expired best-before date does not automatically mean bad or harmful to health. Those who trust their own senses are usually on the safe side and do not have to be concerned about food poisoning.
Remember: It is a ‘best before, not ‘kills immediately after’ date.
The following table presents some information about whether and for how long common food items are usually edible after reaching their “expiry date”, tips to keep food fresh for longer, and advice to determine whether a product can still be eaten after the best-before date has passed.
|Food||Safe after best-before?||How to check?||What to do?|
|Bread||Yes, several days||Mold
|If moldy, throw away (mold can spread), if dry, make breadcrumbs/ croutons|
|Keep fresh for longer: store in dark place at room temperature, loaf keeps longer than slices, freeze individual portions,|
|Butter||Yes, several weeks/months||Dark yellow
|If rancid, throw away|
|Store on the middle shelf of the fridge in a closed container|
|Cheese||Yes, several days/weeks (soft cheese), months (hard cheese)||Mold, color change
|Mold: cut off generously from hard cheese, throw away soft cheese|
|Store on the middle shelf of the fridge, wrap in paper or closed container, store mold cheese separately|
|Dairy products||Yes, several days||Curdled
Package looks inflated
|Throw away sour milk, liquid separating from natural yoghurt harmless but processed dairy products go bad|
|Close well and store in fridge|
|Eggs||Yes, approx. 2 weeks (exception: when using raw eggs)||Rotten, fibrous (boiled eggs)||Put in a glass of water: fresh eggs stay at the bottom, older (but still edible) eggs stand up, rotten eggs float|
|Store in the fridge door (below 10 degrees), keep raw eggs from other foods as salmonella can spread, boiled eggs last for 1-2 weeks|
|Flour, baking powder, etc.||Yes, several weeks/months||Vermin
|Test for vermin (mite) by smoothing the surface and observing movement|
|Store in dry and dark place at room temperature, move from paper bags to well-sealed containers|
|Juice||Yes, several weeks/months||Mold
|Test appearance and taste, cut open tetrapaks to check for mold|
|If opened, store in the fridge, if closed, store at room temperature|
|Oil and vinegar||Yes, several months||Cloudy
|If cloudy, throw away
Cold-pressed oil kept in the fridge can coagulate without compromising quality
|Store at room temperature in dark bottles|
|Rice, pasta||Yes, several years||Vermin, mite
|If moldy or vermin suspected, throw away|
|Raw: store in dark, dry space and well-closed container
Cooked: store in fridge for 1-2 days or freeze