Best Before Concept

What is best-before date?

In Hong Kong, there are two types of expiration dates, best-before date and use-by date. They are determined differently and meant to provide you with different information.

Best-before dates are related to food qualities including taste, texture, smell and appearance. The specified date is meant to inform consumers when to consume the product to have the best experience, and it does not provide information regarding food safety. Under property storage condition, the qualities of products can be preserved up until or way pass the designated date. These products are usually processed in a way that make them non-perishable.

On the other hand, food safety concerns are addressed by use-by dates. Products only labelled with use-by dates are usually highly perishable compare to products that can be labelled with best-before dates. They are vulnerable to bacteria that posts immediate danger to human health.

How are expiration dates determined?

There are usually 3 ways to determined the date on food labels.

1. Microbial Challenge Study

This one is usually used for determining use-by dates to find out when the food is unsafe to consume. In studies like this, the products are intentionally infected with bacteria and stored under different conditions and environments to mimic the actual storage environment of products. Researchers can then decide at which point the amount of bacteria has passed the infective dose.

2. Mathematical Calculation

Not all companies can afford to conduct lab studies, therefore there is another more economic way to determine the dates. The mathematical model is based on previous studies. With known information about the product itself, the package and the storage environment, the model can provide an estimation of product shelf life.

3. Test Taste

This method is usually what determines before-before date since it focuses on the specific qualities of the products. Companies can store their products under specific conditions for different amount of time, and compare the taste of products under different condition and time stamps. By this method they would have a good idea of how the products may change under what condition and duration. However, usually they would pick an earlier date to play it safe.

How long can you really use foods past their best-before date?

Food How long it can be consumed after the Best-Before Date?
Canned soups and vegetables 12-24 months. Once the best-before date is reached the quality may reduce but the food will still be edible.
Rice and pasta 12-24 months. Store in air-tight containers once opened to extend shelf life.
Flour and sugar 6-12 months and again transfer to an airtight container once opened.
Honey, jam, syrup 6 months and keep refrigerated.
Oil 3-4 months if stored in a cool, dark place. If it looks cloudy, don't use it.
Butter/nut spreads 3-4 months if kept away from sunlight.
Breakfast cereal 6 months, keep in air-tight container once opened.
Nuts Will have an extended shelf life of up to 12 months in the fridge. Can also be frozen for 12-24 months.
Sauces Most should be used within 6 months.

Source: Burrell, S. (2020, May 14). How long can you really use foods past their best-before date?