Food Waste Tips

Food & Drink, Food Waste Tips

The Difference Between Best Before & Use By Dates Explained

Confused by food labelling? Let me explain the meaning and the difference between best before dates and use by dates, to help you cut your food waste.

I’m big on cutting food waste. Not only does it make good financial sense to reduce the food we waste, but it also makes good environmental sense. In the UK alone, food waste accounts for between 6 to 7% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. This is because when food waste decomposes it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In fact, it’s estimated by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) that if every UK household stopped wasting food for one day, it could do the same for greenhouse gas emissions as planting 640,000 trees per day. This is around a staggering 230 million trees per year.

Food is also extremely resource-intensive to produce. If you’ve ever tried to grow your own food before, you’ll know just how hard it is to grow food. And not only that, but how much effort and resources, and water go into growing small amounts of food. On a much larger scale, the Carbon Trust says that for every tonne of food not wasted, the needless loss of 1,525,000 litres of water needed to produce that food will be avoided.

One way to cut food waste, is to get a good handle on what the different dates on the food we buy actually mean. One scientific study found that as much as 84% of shoppers are confused by expiration dates. This means a huge amount of edible food is being binned on a daily basis.

What Is the Difference Between Best Before And Use By Dates?

Image of a person holding a fig salad with a blue text box that says the difference between best before and use by dates explained.

It’s useful knowing about expiration dates to avoid food waste. Avoiding food waste not only saves money, but helps the environment too. This is in terms of the resources used to grow, make and transport food. And it’s also in terms of those greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

We have dates on foods because food safety regulations dictate that the shelf-life of a foodstuff be indicated by one of two dates. This is either a date of minimum durability. This is what’s known as the ‘best before’ date. Or the item should have food safety date – the ‘use by’ date.  Here’s what these terms mean in more detail.

What Does The Best Before Date Mean?

The Best Before date (sometimes displayed as BBE, meaning Best Before End) relates to food quality rather than lifespan. This means that when the date runs out, it doesn’t mean that the food will be off or unsafe to eat. Instead, it means that beyond this date, the item is not guaranteed to be at its optimum freshness. So, beyond this date, the taste, appearance, or other attributes of the foodstuff may not be at its very best.

Generally, if the food has been stored correctly, and looks ok, smells ok, and tastes ok after its best before date then it’s good to eat. ⁣

A good example of this in practice is bread. After the best before date, bread goes a little stale. It’s perfectly ok to eat stale bread. You may prefer to toast the bread to make it taste better, but it won’t make you ill. However, as soon as the bread develops mould then that’s a very visible sign that the bread is no longer safe to eat.

Do note that the best before date only applies when the item has been stored in accordance with the storage instructions and it has not been opened. Once opened, it should be cooked and eaten as per the instruction printed on the pack, and any leftovers stored as instructed.

And What Does The Use By Date Mean?

Use by dates are most commonly found on fresh foodstuffs. These include items such as meat, dairy products, or pre-prepared food, such as soups, packaged salads, spreads, and dips.

In contrast to the best before date and its relation to food quality, the use by date relates to food safety. This means that you can cook, eat and freeze food up until and on the use-by date but not after. After the displayed date, it is highly likely that the food will be off and could make you sick.

However, do bear in mind that the use by date is only valid if the storage instructions printed on the packaging have been followed. For example, if an item says to keep refrigerated, then it must be stored in your fridge. If the item is left sitting out at room temperature for an extended period of time, then there is a risk that it will go off before the use-by date. For anything that has been stored out of the fridge for an extended time, then I would discard this food, even if it is before the printed date on the packaging.

The only time the use by date does not matter is if the item has been frozen after purchasing the item, and the item was still in date when it went into the freezer. In this case, its life will be extended well beyond the use by date. This could potentially be for up to one year depending on the item or freezing instructions on the packet.

However, it is important to remember that you should not freeze an item after its use-by date has passed.

What About Display Until Dates?

Ignore ‘display until’ dates. These dates don’t relate to food freshness or quality. Instead, they are used by some shops to help with their stock control and are not aimed at consumers. Instead, look at the use by or best before dates to help guide you.

Food Safety

If you’re in any way concerned about food safety then don’t eat the food in question. How an item looks and smells are good indicators of quality. If something looks off or smells off, then it probably is off, even if it is in date.

Hopefully, if you have been confused about food labels, then this guide will help you to reduce your food waste. If you’re looking for more food waste tips then do have a rummage in my food waste archives. I’ve got loads of clever tips here, to help you save money and cut your food waste.

Food & Drink, Food Waste Tips

How To Use Up Apples and Pears

Do you have a glut of apples of pears? Or a bowl of fruit going to waste? Here are some clever ideas to use up apples and pears – from the peel to the flesh and even the cores.

I’m really big on reducing food waste, so I was really excited to learn about the new book, The Complete Book of Vegan Compleating: An A-Z of Zero-Waste Eating for the Mindful Vegan*, by Ellen Tout. Here Ellen has lovingly and concisely put together the ultimate guide to zero-waste and sustainable cookery. As such, Ellen’s book shows you how to make use of every leftover, scrap, and glut to make vegan food in delicious, nutritious, and inspiring ways.

Ellen has kindly let me share an excerpt from this book, on how to use up every last bit of apples and pears to help reduce your food waste. Did you know that, as well as their sweet flesh, apple and pear peels, and even their cores, can be used to create sauces, dressings, and confectionery in your kitchen? Read on to learn more!

How To Make Apples and Pears Last

Apples and pears are in season from September until February. They should be stored in the fridge. However, pears are often best purchased when firm or underripe so that they can ripen at room temperature before being stored in the fridge. You could also chop and freeze apples and pears to later add to crumbles.

If you grow or forage a large number of apples, then these can be stored somewhere cool on an apple rack for a few months. You can make your own by wrapping each fruit in newspaper and storing them in a cardboard box with a sheet of paper between each layer, making sure the fruits don’t touch. Check regularly to remove any bad apples and you’ll be enjoying your harvest well into the winter.

Nutritional Benefits

Apples are rich in antioxidants and are a great source of fibre, especially in the skin. They are also a source of vitamins A, C, K, and B7. Pears are also a good source of fibre, as well as potassium, phosphorus, vitamin K, and calcium.

Apples and pears were named as part of the “dirty dozen” in recent research. This means that unfortunately, they are high on the list of produce with multiple pesticide residues, so it’s especially worth buying organic or growing your own, and washing the fruit well.

How To Use Up All Parts Of The Fruit

Images of apples being prepared for cooking and eating, with a blue text box that says how to use up apples and pears to beat food waste


We tend to eat apples and pears raw and as a quick snack, but try adding chopped raw apple or apple peels to a coleslaw or beet slaw. Slightly old fruits are ideal for stewing or adding to skin-on fruit crumbles, pies, or tarts. If you want to preserve the flesh then try some of the following ideas.

Dried apples or pears

Cut the fruit into slices, as thinly as possible, leaving the skin on. Most people core the fruit before doing this, but you can leave the centre intact, only removing seeds or any especially tough parts. Spread evenly on a baking tray and cook at 100°C/200°F/gas mark ½ for 2–3 hours, until fully dried. Eat as a snack or topping for smoothie bowls, granola, and desserts. Follow this same process with different fruits, like apricots and kiwi, and ideally bake one big batch of dried fruits at once. Store in a jar for up to a month.

Apple sauce

As well as being a condiment, apple sauce is a brilliant replacement for eggs in vegan baking. To make, chop two medium apples into small chunks. There’s no real need to remove the peels, but if you are going to use this as an egg replacement you might prefer to – or just use a hand blender to purée the peels into the finished sauce. Add the apples to a saucepan over a medium heat with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, or more to taste. Once it simmers, reduce the heat and cook for around 20 minutes. Mix in one teaspoon lemon juice and remove from the heat. Use a potato masher or hand blender to purée the sauce, depending on your preference and intended use. Store in a jar in the fridge for a week or freeze.

Chutneys and ferments

Chutneys are a great way to make use of a large amount of apples and pears. I like to forage these, as well as plums, and give the chutneys away as gifts.

Ways to Use Apple Peel

Many dishes, like crumbles or sweet pies, taste great with the apple or pear peels intact. However, others, such as chutneys, do benefit from peeling. The peels are a good source of fibre and well worth saving.

These recipes work best fresh, but I also have a tub in our freezer, where we store leftover apple and pear peels and cores. Once you collect enough, these are perfect for making homemade vinegar or syrup. You could also add your chopped peels to homemade granola before it goes in the oven.

Apple or pear peel tea

Steep your peels in boiling water, or simmer on the stove, and add ground cinnamon and brown sugar to taste. You could also use a little sweetener in place of sugar, or add some lemon juice. Enjoy warm or cooled in the fridge with ice.

Sweet apple or pear peel crisps

These are best made when the peels are fresh, so the flavour is absorbed. They are also great as a snack or in granola. To make, in a bowl, mix 80g/2¾oz peels with one teaspoon sugar and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon. Make sure the peels are well coated. Spread evenly on a baking tray and cook at 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 for 20–30 minutes, checking regularly. The finished peels should be crispy but not burned.

Infuse spirits

Apple and pear peels can be used to infuse spirits. You can experiment with combinations like apple and rhubarb gin or pear vodka.

What About Apple Cores?

flatlay of apples in a bowl and on a chopping board

Apple seeds are poisonous in large quantities. However, you can carefully munch your apple or pear right up to the very centre, avoiding seeds, and leaving just the overly fibrous parts behind. Store whole cores in the freezer with peels until you collect enough to make a vinegar or syrup.

Apple cider or perry vinegar

Cider vinegar, made from apples, or perry vinegar, made from pears, is easy to make using leftover peels and cores. You just need a little patience!

Place around ten apple or pear cores in a clean (but not soapy) jar, as well as any peels, and add one tablespoon of sugar. Add enough water to cover the fruit and stir well. It’s important that every time you stir you use a clean utensil to avoid any contamination.

Next, place a piece of muslin cloth/cheesecloth over the top of the jar and secure it using a rubber band. Place on a shelf out of direct sunlight and stir every day. After a few weeks, it will taste a little like cider/perry. Frothy white bubbles should form on the surface; this is a good sign. But any mould means the batch should be discarded.

After around a month, strain out and compost the apple or pear pieces. Cover the jar and leave for another month, after which time it should taste more vinegar-like and is ready to bottle and use. Store this in the fridge for up to a year. It may need to be “burped” every now and then to release any air so keep an eye out for bubbles. If you want to speed up this process, add a “mother” from a shop-bought raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized cider/perry vinegar, or from a batch made previously.

How To Use Up Whole Apples

If you are looking for a way to use up whole apples, then try these baked cinnamon apples. This traditional pudding lets you savour the apple’s natural sweetness and flavour. It takes hardly any time to make and uses kitchen staples. Delicious served warm with plant-based vanilla ice cream.

Prep 5 minutes. Cooking 30 mins

You Will Need

  • One large apple
  • Three teaspoons of sultanas/golden raisins
  • Two tablespoons of dark brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon finely diced unpeeled root ginger
  • ½ teaspoon maple, agave, or golden syrup to bind
  • A small knob of plant butter
  • Plant-based vanilla ice cream, to serve


  • Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F/ gas mark 4.
  • Remove the core from your apple using an apple corer. If possible, do this cautiously so that the base of the apple remains intact. Alternatively, carefully use a knife to remove the core. If there is any apple flesh attached to the removed core, retain and dice this into the filling. Save the core for making apple cider vinegar or compost it.
  • In a bowl, mix the sugar, sultanas, cinnamon, root ginger and sweetener until combined. You can also add any offcut apple flesh or diced apple or pear peel from making other dishes. Stuff this filling into the centre of the apple, using your fingers to compress it down and ensure it is tightly packed.
  • Place the apple in an ovenproof dish with a very shallow layer of water.
  • If you have any other apple or pear peels or flesh to use up, you can chop and add these to the dish around the apple.
  • Top the apple with the butter.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25–30 minutes until softened.
  • Serve warm with ice cream. Drizzle over any syrup or fruit that has collected in the dish.

Excerpt from The Complete Book of Vegan Compleating: An A-Z of Zero-Waste Eating for the Mindful Vegan*, by Ellen Tout, published by Watkins Media. Available to purchase now at all good bookshops and online.