Used buy, best buy and baked on dates

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A reader has been in touch crowing about a great find – a store that sells hugely discounted food – including big brand ‘essentials’ like Cadbury and Nestle! – at a fraction of their normal price. After a little questioning we discovered that there was just one catch – the date on the label!

Anyway, we were excited enough by the prospect of bargains that we thought we would try to make some sense out of those date stamps you see on packaged food.

There are basically three “types” of food date stamp: “use-by”, “best-before”, and “baked-on”.  

Foods with a shelf life of less than two years must show a “use-by” date. This date relates to food safety. There is a bit of a debate as to whether food that is past its use-by date is still good to eat, but the law on this is clear – food can’t legally be sold if it has past its use-by-date because it is considered unsuitable for consumption. If you do happen to have bought out of date product then you can have the goods exchanged.

In comparison, “best-before” and “baked on” dates relate to food quality, not safety.

“Baked-on” dates apply to breads with a shelf life of less than seven days, and enable consumers to see how fresh the bread really is.

“Best- before” dates apply to less perishable goods like cereals, flour and canned goods. While foods can be sold after their best-before date, they may have lost quality and some nutritional value.

It’s not uncommon to see foods approaching their use-by or best-before dates heavily marked down. Providing the goods have been packaged and stored properly they should be okay.

There are discount retailers that specialise in selling products that are near to or have passed their best-before dates. Many sell not only out-of-date stock, but also products that can’t be sold through normal retailers because they are discontinued lines, have packaging misprints, or are left-overs from Easter and Christmas.

One reader tells us they always look for use-by-date bargains and then use that food as an ingredient.

Another sharp-eyed shopper from Wellington suggests that the freshest food is best value for money and that is found by looking at the back of the shelves. Retailers tend to put the oldest stock in the front so that sells first and they won’t be left with stock they have to discount or toss out. This goes for vegetables as well.

M.K from Adelaide says, “Go food shopping about half an hour before the supermarket is due to close. You can pick up things like cooked chickens for half price and use them for lunches during the week. There are a lot of cut priced items on sale because the store can’t sell them the next day.

BuzzyBee from Waiheke Island has found the opposite! “Go to the supermarket first thing in the morning and get some real bargains at the deli section. There are often things, being close to their ‘use-by-date’, at less than half the normal price. I often manage to get Champagne ham or other really expensive stuff for a fraction of the normal cost and have a wonderful, luxurious lunch! Same goes for the meat section.”

Tell us about your shopping bargains and we will share them with others.


By Frank and Dr Muriel Newman.

Read more Oily Rag articles here.

You can contact the Oily Rag community via the website at or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.