ConsumerTalk with Wendy Knowler

You're probably reading expiry dates wrong (and wasting food in the process)

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler has helped shed light on what consumers should know about food expiry and 'sell-by' dates.

Knowler spoke with David Watson, Chairman of South Africa’s Food Advisory Consumer Service (FACS) to gain more insights.

Watson says best-before dates have nothing to do with food safety - they are only about quality.

He explains that expiry dates contribute to food waste because households discard food that is still edible.

South Africa’s food labelling regulations make a very big distinction between “use by” dates and “best before” dates.

Noting goes wrong [after the best before date]. It's a date set

David Watson, Chairman of South Africa’s Food Advisory Consumer Service

The best before date speaks to quality not food safety. Yet people read it as a food safety issue.

David Watson, Chairman of South Africa’s Food Advisory Consumer Service

There are three types of expiry dates (or dates of durability):

  • Best-before dates: Theses apply to found mostly on shelf-stable foods such as canned goods, pasta, coffee and biscuits, are about food quality and taste, not safety.

Foods that have reached their best-before date should not be sold at full price by retailers.

  • Use-by dates: These are indeed about food safety, especially once you’ve opened the package. They often apply to meat products or other perishables goods.

Consumers are warned not to eat food that has reached its use-by date.

  • Sell-by dates: These dates are created by retailers and are intended to help stock management.

Products that have reached their sell-by dates are still edible thereafter, provided the food is stored correctly.

One of the best safeguards against eating dangerous foods is to follow storage instructions, such as "refrigerate immediately after opening”.



She discussed food fraud, food waste and other topics raised during the SA Association for Food Science & Technology (SAAFoST) food conference.

Take a listen to the discussion:

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Email: consumer@knowler.co.za, put Cape Talk in the subject line, followed by the issue e.g. cellphone contract dispute.


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