Best before vs use by: How to tell whether expired food is safe to eat

Here's how long you eat certain foods after they expire.

There’s a big misconception when it comes to expiration dates, as many people think that once the use-by or best-before date on an item has passed, the food becomes inedible, but that isn’t always the case.

Despite what people may think, there are foods that you can safely eat past the expiration date, Sydney-based nutritionist Lisa Guy says.

But this is where it can get a little tricky, as Lisa explains that there are actually a few different expiration dates on Australian foods.

A use-by date is a food safety warning found on foods that could potentially pose a health risk due to bacteria, whereas best-before dates are to do with food quality and taste, not food safety. “If bread or other baked goods are on or past their baked-on date this doesn’t mean that they are off it just means that they aren’t at their freshest,” she adds.

So, how long can you eat food after it expires?

Read more: Healthy or marketing ploy? The latest fad diets ranked


You might shudder at the thought of drinking milk after its use-by date, but Lisa says unless it’s letting off a pungent smell there’s nothing to worry about.

“If you’ve transported and stored your dairy products correctly at the right temperature you should get a few days extra out of your milk,” she reckons.

Consuming expired cheese is perfectly safe as well – as long as you cut off the mould.

However you need to be careful with soft cheese as the extra moisture can encourage bacteria to grow. “If you see any mould on them throw them out,” Lisa advises.

To help keep them fresh for longer, she says to wrap your hard cheeses in wax paper and store soft cheeses in a sealed container.

Like many foods, if it's stored correctly, it can last a few extra days past the use by date.
Like many foods, if it’s stored correctly, it can last a few extra days past the use by date.


Lisa assures us that fresh eggs can be stored in the fridge for around six weeks, and they are often still good to eat long after the date on the packaging expires. If you want to test how fresh they are, put your egg in a glass water. “If it sinks it is still OK to eat, if it floats it’s off and should be thrown out,” she says. 


“Grains can last unopened for months after their expiry date”, Lisa says.

Because they have a best-before date not a use-by date they may go stale and lose their crunch but they will still be safe to eat if stored correctly in an airtight container.

Not too sure what to do with stale grains? “Using stale grains for cooking is a good way to use them,” she adds.

Grains can last unopened for months after their expiry date.
Grains can last unopened for months after their expiry date.


If stored correctly green leaves can last a few days after their best-before date. “Throw out any greens that are discoloured, gone slimy or have a funny smell,” she adds.


If refrigerated properly, meat can be eaten one to two days after its use-by date, however if it’s discoloured, has slime on it or gives off a funky smell throw it out immediately.

“If you freeze your meat it can last around five months past its use-by date,” Lisa adds.

Read more: Here’s how long meat can stay frozen without spoiling

Try wrapping the meat in plastic wrap and then resealable freezer bags to avoid air contamination. For extra protection, place the wrapped meat in an air-tight container. A great tip is to label the containers by date, so you can use the older meat first.

“Keep food preparation surfaces clean to avoid any cross contamination of raw chicken, fish and meat with other foods,” she adds.

What do you think? Would you eat something after its best before or use by date?

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