Is Sell By the Same as Use By? Clearing Up the Confusion

In recent times, there has been a consistent confusion about the difference between ‘Sell By’ and ‘Use By’. Many consumers have unknowingly thrown out perfectly good food simply because they did not understand the difference between these two terms. In this article, we will explore the meaning of these terms and clarify any confusion surrounding them.

What is Sell By?

‘Sell By’ is a term that is commonly found on food items in supermarkets. This date is an indication to the retailers on how long they should display the product for sale. The ‘Sell By’ date also acts as an inventory control measure, and it helps ensure that the store does not overstock the products on the shelves. Most times, the date is usually two to four days away from the date of production.

What is Use By?

‘Use By’ is a term that is mainly associated with perishable goods. These goods include dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as meat, fish, and poultry. This date signifies the last day that the product is guaranteed to be at its freshest quality. After this date, the product may still be safe to consume or use, but it may not taste as good or even go bad.

Is Sell By the Same as Use By?

No, ‘Sell By’ is not the same as ‘Use By.’ Although both terms have similar dates on the packaging, the meanings are entirely different. ‘Sell By’ is an indication for the retailer on how long they should display the product for sale. In contrast, ‘Use By’ informs the consumer about the last day that the product is at its freshest quality.

Can I Eat Food After the Sell By Date?

Yes, it is safe to eat food after the ‘Sell By’ date. However, the quality of the food may have decreased since the date of production. In most cases, the food may still look and taste fine, but it is not at its best. For example, the bread may be slightly stale or the lettuce may have wilted. Nevertheless, if the food is not showing any signs of spoilage, then it is still safe to consume even after the Sell By date.

Can I Eat Food After the Use By Date?

It is not recommended to eat food after the ‘Use By’ date. These dates are an indication of when the product is still at its freshest quality, and consuming it after this date increases the risk of food poisoning. Consuming a clean and fresh diet ensures that there is a minimal risk of developing foodborne illnesses. Remember, the ‘Use By’ date is not a suggestion but a warning about the safety of the product.

How Can I Ensure That I am Buying Fresh Food?

To ensure that you are buying fresh and of quality food, check the following tips below:

  • Check the expiration dates of the item you are buying.
  • Look out for dents or damaged packaging on the product.
  • Smell the product to see if it has a foul odor.
  • Check the color of the food to see if it looks normal.
  • Make sure that the packaging is sealed correctly.

What Happens When You Consume Expired Food?

Consuming expired food can lead to food poisoning or other health-related problems. Some of the symptoms of food poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. These symptoms can occur within hours or even days after consuming the food item.

How is Food Expiration Date Determined?

The expiration date of food varies, but the most common method is by estimating the lifespan of the product when exposed to certain levels of heat, humidity, and light during production. Manufacturers typically carry out tests to estimate the product’s stability and quality over a specific time frame, and based on the results, the expiration date is determined.

What Other Dates Can I Find on Packaging?

Apart from ‘Sell by’ and ‘Use by’ dates, another common date that you could find on food packaging is the ‘Best Before’ date. The ‘Best Before’ date is an indication for consumers to know when the product is at its best quality. The food item may still be good to eat after this date, but the quality may have reduced.

What are Some of the Risks of Misinterpreting Food Expiry Dates?

Misinterpreting food expiry dates can lead to several risks, including:

  • Food poisoning from consuming expired or spoiled food.
  • Food waste – throwing out perfectly safe food that is still good to eat.
  • Increased costs – constantly purchasing new products because you earlier threw away the safe ones.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between ‘Sell By’ and ‘Use By’ is essential, as it helps you to consume or use food products at their freshest quality without running the risk of foodborne illnesses. Always take notice of the date on the packaging, and check for signs of spoilage before consuming the product. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out.

Common Questions and Answers

  • Q: Can you consume food after the ‘Sell By’ date?
  • A: Yes, it is safe to eat food after the ‘Sell By’ date, but the quality may have reduced since the production date.
  • Q: Can you eat food after the ‘Use By’ date?
  • A: No, it is not recommended to eat food after the ‘Use By’ date, as it increases the risk of food poisoning.
  • Q: How can you identify if a product has expired or gone bad?
  • A: Check the packaging’s expiration date, smell the product, check for any physical defects, and ensure that the packaging is correctly sealed.


  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d). Food Product Dating. Retrieved from
  • NHS. (2020, August 04). Use-by and best-before dates. Retrieved from
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2019, August 01). Reducing Wasted Food At Home. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *