Created for expats living in Japan

Is it Safe to Eat Expired Food? - The difference between "Best Before" and "Use By"

In Japanese food labeling, there are two types of dates: "消費期限" (Use By) and "賞味期限" (Best Before). These two are significantly different and determine whether food can or cannot be consumed after the specified date. This article explains the differences and various types of food in relation to these dates.

Use By vs Best Before

Here is the explanation about Best Before and Use By as defined by the Consumer Affairs Agency. These dates indicate the period during which the product is expected to maintain its quality when stored in its unopened container or packaging.

Use By (Consume By, Expiry) Date

Use By date is called "Shouhikigen" (消費期限) in Japanese. It refers to the date specified on a product until which it is considered safe to consume without a significant risk of deterioration, decay, or loss of quality under the specified storage conditions. It indicates the date by which the product is expected to maintain its safety and hygiene if stored in an unopened state according to the designated method. Therefore, please do not eat foods after the "Use By" date.

It is indicated on foods that are easily perishable, such as boxed lunches, sandwiches, fresh noodles, cakes, etc.

Best Before Date 

Best Before Date is called "Shoumikigen" (賞味期限) in Japanese. It refers to the date specified on a product until which the expected quality can be maintained adequately when stored according to the designated method. However, even after this date has passed, some of the quality aspects might still be preserved. Therefore, for items that have exceeded their Best Before date, it is up to the consumer to make an individual judgment as to whether the food is still suitable for consumption.

Snack foods, cup noodles, canned goods, bottled beverages, retort food and other less perishable food items are labeled with their Bes Before dates. However, once a food item has been opened, it is recommended to consume it promptly regardless of the expiration date.

The following is based on data from the Consumer Affairs Agency. Red indicates Use By Date, and green indicates Best Before Date.


Remember the Two Differences

In some countries abroad, there might not be a distinction between "Best Before Date" and "Use By Date (Expiration Date)", and products that have passed their indicated date may be considered unsuitable for consumption. However, as mentioned above, Japan has two different labeling methods for "Best Before Date" and "Use By Date". Regarding Best Before Date, it is possible to sell and consume products even after the indicated date has passed. 

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