To avoid any risk of disease due to microbiological hazards, you should always consume food products before the expiration dates on the labels. There are two types of dates that provide information about the length of time a product is fit for consumption: the use-by date (UBD) and the date of minimum durability (DMD).
UBD and DMD: two types of information that should not be confused
For your safety, you should understand the difference between a UBD and a DMD. Moreover, you should check which type of date appears on each product you have purchased.
UBD = Use-By Date
A product’s use-by date (UBD) usually appears as “day/month/year”.
What products does it apply to? Fresh foods, sold in the refrigerated sections of shops and supermarkets, such as meat, fish, and certain dairy and delicatessen meat products, for example.
These products should not be consumed after the stated expiration date, as this could pose a risk to your health. Most fresh, packaged products display this mandatory information, which must be placed on the product by the manufacturer. They cannot be sold after this date.
DMD = Date of Minimum Durability
The words “Best before...” refer to the date of minimum durability. This date is given on food products for information only and is not as strict as a use-by date. Sometimes, this date can be noted in a “month/year” format.
Consuming a product after its DMD does not pose a health risk, although the product may lose some of its flavour and/or nutritional properties.
What products does it apply to? Pasta, rice, sugar, salt, flour, canned food, etc.
Did you know?
Watch out for swollen packaging, no “popping” sound when opening a jar for the first time, unpleasant smells or abnormal colouring: these are signs of a health hazard and the food should be thrown away.
The specific case of canned food
When consuming a canned product, in addition to the DMD, you should always check the outside appearance of the tin. Any trace of denting, rust, bulging, etc. can be indicative of spoilage. If in doubt, you should avoid consuming the contents.
True or false: Consuming food products after the expiration date
Prepackaged food products mention a use-by date (UBD) or date of minimum durability (DMD). UBDs apply to highly perishable products, which are thus likely to pose a risk to health when consumed after the expiration date.
A DMD indicates the date up to which the product retains its organoleptic (appearance, odour, texture, etc.), physical, nutritional and gustatory properties. Here, ANSES addresses the most frequent myths regarding the consumption of products after their expiration dates.
Some products never go bad
Salt, sugar, dry biscuits, chocolate, alcoholic beverages and vinegar are some examples of products that do not go bad. You should still comply with the storage instructions for these products if you want to keep them past their date of minimum durability.
Once opened, a product still has the same use-by date
A product’s use-by date is no longer valid once it has been opened. You should follow the storage recommendations given by the manufacturer on the packaging – temperature, maximum storage time, information about the secondary shelf-life (“eat within x days of opening”) – and also use the product as intended.
My delicatessen product doesn’t have a use-by date, so I should eat it quickly.
Seek advice from retailers on when to consume delicatessen products, ready meals, cream-based pastries or "highly perishable" non-prepackaged foods on which there is no use-by date. In general, these products should be consumed within three days.
Consuming a product after the UBD can be riskier for certain population groups.
Certain population groups should strictly comply with the dates printed on products. Otherwise, there can be particularly high health risks, especially for the elderly, immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women, and children under the age of five.
A yoghurt can still be consumed a few days after its use-by date
True, but only for yoghurt – not for dairy desserts!
The use-by date should always be respected by the consumer. However, there are some special cases, as with yoghurt. This product does not have a high level of microbiological risk because of its acidic environment, containing large amounts of culture, in which pathogens have a hard time developing. This exception is only valid for yoghurt; it is not valid for all fresh dairy products (such as fresh dairy desserts). Generally speaking, you should respect the dates on these products, to avoid any risks.
A product can be frozen on its use-by date
It is preferable to anticipate the freezing of food immediately after purchase or preparation, and not when nearing the UBD. Although home freezing at -18°C stops bacterial growth, most micro-organisms survive freezing. However, it is possible to consume a frozen product after its use-by date, as long as the defrosting and preparation rules have been respected.
Storage, preparation, cooking: other important information for your safety
- Food should be stored precisely at the storage temperature stated on its packaging; otherwise, its safety is no longer guaranteed.
- Moreover, cooking instructions (thorough cooking of sausages and minced beef, for example) should be scrupulously respected, since pathogenic bacteria can survive if food is undercooked.
Cooking food to an internal temperature of 70°C eliminates most pathogenic micro-organisms. It is recommended that food be reheated in a covered container until steam escapes (regardless of the means used: hotplate, microwave, oven, etc.).
- Manufacturers may give a length of time during which a product can be consumed after opening (consume within two or three days of opening the packaging, for example). You should respect this period of time to avoid any health risks.
- Food should be defrosted in the refrigerator, in the microwave (using the defrost function) or quickly by cooking or reheating. Defrosted food should be consumed quickly (within three days). Defrosted food must not be refrozen.