The Food Standards Agency (FSA) firstly wanted to highlight that EU Food Law is clear that food should be fit for human consumption and the presentation of food, and the information, which is made available about it, must not mislead consumers.
The use-by date is about safety and the most important date to remember, according to the FSA. Foods can be eaten (and most can be frozen) up until the use-by date, but not after.
For the use-by date to be a valid guide, the product’s storage instructions should be followed carefully.
Best-before date is about quality and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its peak in terms of quality – its flavour and texture might not be good. The best-before dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods.
Freezing acts as a pause button and it is safe to freeze food up until the use-by date. This includes meats and meals cooked from previously cooked and frozen meat. Once defrosted, the pause button is off so defrost food as it is needed and serve within 24 hours.
The best-before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label.
Many people believe food can only be frozen on the day of purchase but most foods can be safely frozen right up to the use-by date.
It is best to place food in an air-tight container or wrap food well in freezer bags, freezer wraps or cling film before placing in the freezer otherwise the cold air will dry it out. Try to expel any air from freezer bags.
Raw and cooked meats can be safely frozen. Simply defrost overnight in the fridge (but be careful that raw meat doesn’t drip on any other foods in the fridge and check it is thoroughly defrosted), use within 24 hours and cook until steaming hot.
Foods can be stored in a correctly functioning freezer for a long time without going off, but it is the quality that deteriorates over time.
It is best to make sure frozen food is eaten within three to six months. If meat is frozen for longer, the FSA advises to marinate it before cooking to improve texture or use herbs and spices to add flavour.
Frozen food can be defrosted overnight in the fridge but the FSA suggested checking to ensure it is thoroughly defrosted.
Once defrosted, the food needs to be used within 24 hours and cooked until steaming hot. If needed quicker, food can be defrosted safely in a microwave but there should be no frozen lumps or cold spots in the middle.