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Food waste: how to tell if food is safe to eat

Make sure you're eating food when it's at its best.


Food waste is a massive problem here in Ireland, with around 47 million tonnes of food thrown away each year. 

Part of the problem is that people don't tend to use meal planners and shopping lists, so they end up buying too much food and throwing a lot of it out, but another issue is the confusion surrounding best-before and use-by dates. 

Most Irish products are labelled with use-by and best-before dates, but what do they both mean? The answer varies by country, but here in Ireland, the use-by date is the most important as it marks the date that food can be safely used by. According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), after the use-by date, food is deemed unsafe and shouldn't be eaten or sold. 

The best-before date refers to the day until which a product is at its best. After this date, the product will start to deteriorate in terms of taste, appearance and the like, but it will still be safe to eat. 

Therefore, food can be eaten right up until the best-before date, but should not be consumed after the use-by date. However, if you are worried about whether or not your food is safe to eat, remember the following general rule of thumb: if in doubt, throw it out.

If you're worried about the quality of certain foods, like fresh vegetables or bread, that haven't passed their use-by date, there are a number of ways you can check if they're safe to eat. Read on to find out how.

Image from Getty Images.
Image from Getty Images.


Bread can quickly get mouldy, thanks to its porous nature and how you store it can have an impact too. It's best not to store bread in a refrigerator as the added moisture can affect its texture. Keep it wrapped in an airtight bag or covering then keep it in a cool, dry place. Fresh bread is usually best when eaten within 2-3 days of purchase, however do keep an eye out for mould. If it's on one slice, then the whole loaf has gone mouldy, even if it's not visible to the naked eye. At this stage, it's best to throw the bread out. If your bread still feels fresh and springy after three days, with no mould present, then it is usually still safe to eat – just remember to check its use-by date before you tuck in!

Fresh fruit 

Fruit that hasn't been pre-prepared (ie. peeled, chopped or sliced before being packaged), usually doesn't have a date on the packaging. The best way to tell if fresh fruit has turned bad is to check the texture. Is is mushy when touched? Does the flesh look discoloured when cut open? If the answer is yes, then you're better off binning it. The skin of fruit will change colour over time, so don't use that as an obvious indicator as to whether it's safe to eat. As long as you're comfortable with some browning on your banana skin or a few small spots on your apple, then you're good to go. 

Image by Getty Images.
Image by Getty Images.


Milk is a tricky one, as you should always stick to the use-by date, but sometimes it can spoil before then, usually due to storage methods. Don't keep it in the fridge door, as this is the warmest area of your fridge. If you open your carton of milk and notice it has a strong, sour smell, then it's best to bin it. Textural changes can also occur in spoiled milk, so if you notice any lumps, then you should get rid of it. 


It's reported that 720 million eggs are thrown away every year in Britain, at a cost of £139 million. Eggs have a best-before date, but it's very easy to tell when they're fresh if you're worried. Simply place the egg in a glass of water and if it sinks to the bottom and lies flat on its sides, then it's fresh. If the egg is less fresh but still good to eat, it will stand on one end at the bottom. If it floats, it's no longer fresh enough to eat and should be discarded. 

Image Getty Images.
Image Getty Images.