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The use by date is the last day on which an item of food may be consumed.

Unlike the best before date, this really is a type of expiry date. Once the use by date has been passed, the food can no longer be sold. The use by date is stated for foods that will spoil easily, such as mince, raw poultry or other chopped meat. The date is preceded by the text "Use by". The use by date must be observed at all times, otherwise there could be a risk to health.

In general, however, the way you handle food has a considerable impact on its actual shelf life, irrespective of the best before date. There are certain methods of extending storage life and other ways of doing things which will shorten it. You should pour the required amount of fresh or UHT milk into a jug, for example, rather than leaving the open bottle or carton on the table whilst you eat your breakfast or drink your coffee.

You should always use clean cutlery when removing cream cheese or other spreads from the packaging. Bread lasts longer if you only take out what you require, then reclose the packaging or bread bin immediately. But if you lay all the slices out in a basket and then put the unused ones back into the packet at the end of the meal, that will shorten the bread’s shelf life significantly. See our food glossary for more tips on optimum food storage.