Everything you need to know about chocolate and food dates


Does chocolate have a use-by date?

No, chocolate does not have a use-by date it just has a best before date. This means it is safe to eat after the best before date has passed.

Is it safe to eat chocolate after the expiration date?

Chocolate is a product that doesn’t actually have an expiration date. Instead, it has a best before date. These are two very different things. An expiration date, which is actually called a use-by date, is only included for products that are unsafe to eat after a certain period.

Chocolate is safe to eat after its best before date. How long after the best before date you can enjoy chocolate depends on the specific product, and your personal preferences.

Why doesn’t chocolate go bad?

Chocolate doesn’t have water in it, and bacteria needs water to be active and cause harm. That means bacteria can’t survive in chocolate, hence chocolate products do not come with a use-by date. Even if the chocolate has changed in colour or if blooms appear (the little white spots that you sometimes see), it is still safe to eat without risking food poisoning.

How long can you eat chocolate after the expiration date?

Keep in mind that since chocolate is safe to eat after the best before date, this comes down to your own subjective opinion of how the chocolate tastes. The following table is just a rough guide. The best test is to smell and taste the chocolate. If it smells OK to you and tastes fine then you can eat it!

Make sure you store your products in a cupboard or pantry, try and keep them at a consistent temperature and make sure they are properly wrapped with foil if opened.

Product Time past ‘best before’ when chocolate should still taste good!
Quality unlikely to be compromised Still good, but small chance it may taste a little different
Milk chocolate 2 – 4 months 5 – 8 months
White chocolate 2 – 4 months 5 – 8 months
Dark chocolate 1 year 2 — 3 years
Chocolate bar with nuts/fruits 2 – 4 months 5 – 8 months
Chocolate bar with nougat/caramel/wafer etc 2 – 4 months 5 – 8 months
Hot chocolate 1 year 1 – 2 years

The best before date varies a lot on chocolate products that you see on the shelf. Similar products can have best befores of as little as 6 months right up to 24 months. This is to with stock rotation more than anything else.

Keep in mind that brands are likely to provide shorter best before dates than necessary to protect themselves. The exact day of the best before should be taken with a pinch of salt. You do not need to throw out your chocolate if it has passed the best before by a few days or a week, for example.

Technically you can eat chocolate at any point after its best before date, as long as you store it according to the instructions on the packaging. At some point the flavour of the chocolate will change though.

Since chocolate passed its best before is safe to eat, the best test is to smell it and try a little bit of it – if it smells unpleasant and you don’t like the taste then don’t eat it.

There are a number of factors that affect the life of chocolate. These are:

  • Whether it is white, milk or dark chocolate (meaning variable milk and sugar content)
  • Whether it has anything in it like fruit or nuts
  • How it is stored

Dark vs milk and white

Because dark chocolate has fewer milk products in it than milk and white chocolate it generally lasts longer. Best before dates for dark chocolate products tend to be over 2 years, and you can normally eat the chocolate for up to 3 years past this if stored properly.

Most resources state that milk chocolate can last approximately 1 year, but take this with a pinch of salt. Brands undertake rigorous testing to set their best befores and will also put a shorter date on to protect themselves. A bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate on the shelf at the end of November 2017 had a best before date of 21/11/2018 – up to one year after:


Since safety isn’t a concern here, it comes down to your own feeling about the taste of the chocolate. Look, touch, smell and taste the product to make an assessment and trust your own judgement – the date is a guideline, not an exact science!

To give you a feel for the kind of timescales brands set here’s a table of best before dates of on-shelf products. All dates were recorded on 30th November 2017 in Sheffield, UK.

Product On shelf Best before Difference
Solid bars
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk 30/11/2017 21/11/2018 12 months
Tesco milk chocolate 30/11/2017 10/2018 13 months
Dairy Milk Whole Nut 30/11/2017 8/11/2018 14 months
Bournville dark chocolate 30/11/2017 17/10/2018 13 months
Tesco 85% cocoa dark chocolate 30/11/2017 5/2019 30 months
Tesco 74% cocoa dark chocolate 30/11/2017 4/2019 29 months
Green and Blacks 30% cocoa white chocolate 30/11/2017 7/4/2019 29 months
Milkybar white chocolate 30/11/2017 10/2018 11 months
Chocolate bars
Double Decker 30/11/2017 17/7/2018 8 months
Twix 30/11/2017 29/04/2018 17 months
KitKat 30/11/2017 6/2018 7 months
KitKat multipack 30/11/2017 8/2018 9 months
Kinder Bueno 30/11/2017 4/7/2018 8 months
Hot chocolate
Galaxy instant hot chocolate 30/11/2017 9/5/2019 18 months
Snickers 30/11/2017 4/11/2018 12 months
Tesco hot chocolate 30/11/2017 4/2019 29 months
Tesco cocoa powder 30/11/2017 5/2019 30 months
Chocolate drops
Dr Oetker chocolate chunks 30/11/2017 3/2019 28 months

Fruit, nuts and candies in the chocolate

If chocolate has other bits in it like fruit and nuts you need to consider how quickly these will go off. It may be that the surrounding chocolate is fine, but the added extras have gone off. Again, your best bet is to look, smell and taste the product to establish its freshness.

Storage

Temperature and odours can affect quality of the chocolate. Fluctuations in temperature can cause sugar and fat blooms on chocolate, and chocolate absorbs other odours easily which can affect the taste.

The ideal place for chocolate is a cupboard or pantry. If you’ve opened the chocolate, reseal it with foil to prevent air getting in.

Storing chocolate in the fridge exposes it to temperature changes and can cause sugar and fat blooms. Though these don’t affect the safety of the chocolate, they can affect the texture and taste.

If you do want to store your chocolate in the fridge you should absolutely make sure it is wrapped in foil and ideally put it in a container so that it doesn’t absorb odours from other foods.

How do you know when chocolate has “gone bad”?

Sometimes chocolate gets patches of white on it. This does not mean it is unsafe to eat, it simply means the flavour or texture may have been compromised. The patches are called sugar blooms and mean that the sugar within the chocolate has crystallised. It can occur when water gets into contact with the chocolate, if the chocolate has been put in the fridge or if it has been in a place with high humidity.

Sugar blooms

Sugar blooms are white, almost powdery spots that sometimes appear on chocolate.

To figure out whether you have a sugar bloom or fat bloom, wet the end of your finger and dab it onto the white patch. If it disappears straight away then it is a sugar bloom. If it doesn’t and feels waxy, it is a fat bloom.

Sugar blooms occur when chocolate is exposed to moisture, either through condensation or because something has been spilt on it. The spillage will not have happened during manufacturer or storage, but you may have spilt something on it at home, for example. This causes the sugar crystals in the chocolate to rise to the surface and gather on the top.

The chocolate will be safe to eat, and often still tastes fine, especially if you melt it down to get rid of the bloom.

Fat blooms

Fat blooms occur under a number of different circumstances, when the cocoa butter in chocolate separates and rises to the surface. Temperature fluctuations are one factor that can cause fat blooms. It’s not always clear what the cause of a fat bloom is, however. Research by Nestlé has suggested that it occurs when chocolate is more porous, so the fats can move more easily to the surface.

Like sugar blooms, fat blooms do not mean the chocolate is unsafe to eat, but the texture will be different. Again, you can melt down the chocolate to get rid of a fat bloom.

Chocolate expiration date format

Brand labels:

Brand chocolate bars tend to have very simple date information on the back of the product. You’ll normally see a box, either black or white, clearly labelled as ‘best before’. Within that you will see a printed date. Most best before dates specify an exact day, though sometimes they will just specify a month and year.

Some labels say ‘best before end’ – this means the food is expected to last either for 18 months or over 18 months.

If it says ‘best before end’ and only has a year specified it will last longer than 18 months.

Independent or smaller chocolate brands will have different systems for their best before dating and often err on the side of caution. For this reason the best before may be significantly shorter on these kinds of products – it is unlikely that the chocolate itself will last a shorter time than a brand product, however.

Can shops sell out of date chocolate?

It is perfectly legal for shops to sell chocolate past the best before dates, but the shop must advertise the fact it is out of date. It is illegal to sell products after their use-by date. To find out more about the difference between best before and use by click here.

Why it’s hard to say for certain

Best before is to do with quality, not safety. Quality comes down to taste and this is entirely subjective. Food manufacturers will use taste testers to make a decision as to when they think a product’s taste has been compromised. This isn’t an exact science, so the best before should be considered a guideline, not a strict rule.

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