Cooking,  Food Safety,  Shopping For Meat

Is “Out of Date” Meat Safe To Eat?

Food labelling can be a confusing issue for consumers, and a costly affair, if perfectly good food is being thrown away for the wrong reasons.

So is meat past its expiration date still safe to eat? Meat labelled with a ‘Use By’ date should not be eaten beyond the listed date. Products labelled with a ‘Sell By’, ‘Display Until’, or a ‘Best Before’ date, will still have a useable life after the listed date.

We will look at how you can decide whether your expired meat is actually still safe to be eaten, or if it would be better to throw it away.

“The average American family of four throws out $1,600 a year in produce.

Source Environmental Protection Agency

‘Use By’ Dates

What is a ‘Use By’ date?

The food industry spends billions of dollars determining the useable life of every perishable product that is sold.

With extensive experiments, every product will have been tested to see how long it can safely be held in it’s packaging, before beginning to spoil and become unsafe to eat due to the high level of dangerous pathogens/bacteria being present.

Once all the different scenarios have been exhausted, and all of the data collated, a shelf life will have been determined. This shelf life will be the amount of time a product can safely remain on sale in stores, or in your home refridgerator, before needing to be eaten or thrown away.

If the shelf life has been determined as 5 days, then when a piece of meat is packaged in the meat processing plant, a ‘Use By’ date of 5 days from the production date will be printed onto the food packaging. This date allows seller and buyer of the meat, to know what date the meat needs to be consumed by before it starts to be harmful to health.

So can I eat meat that is past its ‘Use By’ date?

No, is the short and safest answer to this question. Wherever possible, you should only buy products that you know you are going to be able to use or freeze before the ‘use by’ date expires.


There is a divided opinion regarding using meat past the ‘Use by’ date.

Food producers will always side with caution, and therefore if a product has been given a 5 day shelf life, it would probably realistically be fine at 7 days.

A companies reputation would soon be damaged if their meat products were starting to show signs of spoilage when reaching the ‘Use By’ date and being constantly returned by the consumer. For this reason a ‘cautious’ date that errs on the side of disposing sooner over later is adopted.

This is where your own senses comes into play.

When meat begins to spoil, it will start to become discolored, will take on an unpleasant smell, and may become sticky to the touch. These are all sign that the meat has reached a point that it is probably better to throw away rather than take a chance on eating it.

MEAT TIP: Meat can discolor quite quickly, and that in itself is not an indication of spoilage. However combined with a funny smell and sticky touch, then play safe and throw it away!

IMPORTANT! NEVER take a chance on eating cooked products beyond thier ‘use by’ date. Cooked meats are a High Risk item and should always be thrown away when expired!

Independent butchers that cut up whole carcasses of meat, do NOT have ‘Use By’ dates. These meat experts rely on their senses and experience of meat handling to determine the quality of their products. They rely on sight, touch and smell to determine if a piece of meat is reaching the end of its shelf life and will act accordingly.

So, whilst we are not advocating that you should totally ignore ‘Use By’ dates on your raw meat products, there is an element of using your own instincts if you happen to find yourself with an unexpected package of meat that is a day or 2 beyond expiration.


Food poisoning is no fun I can assure you. If you are even the slightest bit unsure as to whether the meat is safe to eat – Bin It!

If you do decide that the raw meat is safe to eat – COOK IT THOROUGHLY!

Ensure that it is cooked to an internal temperature of at least 75oC / 165oF, as this will ensure that if there were any pathogens or harmful bacteria present, they are destroyed in the cooking process. It is highly recommended that you use a food probe to ensure through cooking is achieved. Adequate affordable food probes are easily available from places such as Amazon, and are a vital piece of kitchen equipment.

As stated before, the best way to prevent having to make these decisions is to buy only what you think you can use or freeze within the ‘Use By’ period. This way you will not have to take chances on whether or not your food is safe to eat!

Shopping Tip: Many stores will drastically reduce the price of their meat products that are nearing their ‘Use By’ date. If you have freezer space, you may want to stock up on these bargains. Be sure to mark the ‘Useable Days’ on your frozen package so you know how soon it should be used after defrosting!

Consumer Note: It is ILLEGAL for any business to have on display, or attempt to sell, a product that has expired its ‘USE BY’ date. If you see an out of date product for sale, you should inform a store employee to have them remove the item as it has probably been overlooked during their daily stock check.

Best Before Dates

What is a ‘Best Before’ Date?

A ‘Best Before’ date is placed onto food items that will be at their prime for consumption, prior to reaching that date. These dates are often put on less perishable foods such as dried goods, canned goods, chips and bakery items etc.

So can I eat food past the ‘Best Before’ date?

Yes! The ‘Best Before’ date is there merely to let you know when the product will be at its best state for eating. However, after this date, the product will still be perfectly safe to eat, but the quality may suffer the longer past the date you consume it.

Now obviously, that does not mean that you can keep ‘Best Before’ products indefinitly, at some point they will become inedible or unpleasant to eat. This is more likely due to becoming stale, soft, tasteless etc rather than dangerous to health.

Shopping Tip! Many stores will drastically reduce the price of item nearing their ‘Best Before’ date. Depending on what item it is, many products will be fine to consume, with very little quality deteriation, up to 3 months after the listed date.

Consumer Note: It is perfectly legal for stores to sell their products beyond the ‘best before’ date, however it would be unlikely that they would be selling them at the ‘full’ price. You will find that the further past the listed date, the higher the reductions will be. Many stores will discount the products to just ‘pennies’ to free up the selling space for more profitable items.

Many Products Are Reduced When Nearing Their Shelf Life Dates

‘Sell By’ & ‘Display Until’ Dates

What are ‘Sell By’ and ‘Display Until’ Dates?

‘Sell By’ and /or ‘Display Until’ dates are the dates put onto products that allow a store to know how long they can safely display a product for sale.

These dates are not to be confused with the ‘Use by’ date, as products dated in this way will still have a useable life after the ‘sell/Display’ date has expired.

So can I still eat meat after the ‘Sell By’ or ‘Display Until’ date has expired?

Yes! As mentioned earlier, this date is more to assist the retailer with their stock rotation of the item.

Sometimes you may see 2 dates printed on to a product. Both a ‘Sell By’ date and a ‘Use By’ date. In this instance, the ‘sell by’ date is there for the convenience of the seller to allow for effective stock rotation, and the ‘Use By’ date is there for the consumer to know when they need to use or freeze the product.

If the product only has a ‘Sell by’ date printed on the product, there will usually be another form of information to allow the consumer safe useage.

“Use within 3 days of purchase” or “Use or freeze within 2 days of Sell by date” may be marked on the package as a guide to safe consumption.

Shopping Tip! As with the previous dating systems, you can usually find some cut price items when they are nearing or on the ‘Sell by’ / ‘Display Until’ date.

Consumer Note: Stores should not be seeling products beyond the listed ‘Sell by’ / ‘Display Until’ date, even though they are still safe to eat. Again, if you see an item past its date, it has probably been overlooked and alerting an employee should see the item removed from sale.

Don’t Just Rely On Dates!

Just because a pack of meat is within its ‘Use By’ date, does not mean that it is safe to eat!


Not only is it important to decide for yourself whether you feel you want to use a product after it has expired its date, you should also use your own sences to determine if it is safe to eat a product that is STILL IN DATE!

Many meat items these days are vacuum sealed to extend their shelf life, however if that vacuum seal is damaged, then the meat is more likely to spoil sooner than the listed date.

Vacuum Sealed Meat

Always check the packaging of the products you are buying and discard damaged items. Also check the meat prior to cooking for signs of possible spoilage. Even with all the testing and packaging, items can still spoil prior to their useable dates.

Use your sight, feel and smell to check that you are happy with the quality of the meat you are about to use. If you are not confident that the meat is safe to eat, and it is still within the ‘Use By’ date, return it to your retailer for a refund.

We have written an article about how to tell if a vacuum sealed product is still safe to eat.