Canned and packaged food

Damaged food packaging can provide an entry for bacteria. For example, check cans for unusual swelling and/or leakage, broken tamper seals, rusty or severely dented cans, and damaged seams. Do not purchase the food if you see any signs of defects.

Don’t buy food that has mould growth visible unless it is supposed to be there such as on some cheeses and cured products. If in doubt ask the shop keeper for advice.

‘Use by’ dates are dates marked on foods to advise shoppers that the food must be eaten before the marked date for safety reasons. Foods marked with a use by date cannot legally be sold after the date marked. Eating foods after the use by date is at your own food safety risk.

‘Best before’ dates refer to the quality of the food. They are marked on foods which do not present food safety issues, but if these foods are eaten after the best before date they may have lost nutritional value and quality. Foods can be sold after the best before date marked provided the food is fit for human consumption.

The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a ‘baked on’ or ‘baked for’ date if its shelf life is less than seven days.

Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, for example canned food, do not need to be labelled with a ‘best before’ date. This is because it is difficult to give the consumer an accurate guide as to how long these foods will keep, as they will retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil.

Check marked down food with use by dates to be sure it is within that date. If you cannot read the date marks or if they are covered by a sticker, for example a price mark down sticker, then ask the shop keeper for the date or find a package with clearly visible markings. Remember if you freeze food that has a use by date you should use it straight away after thawing as the use by date marked will no longer be relevant.