I am from Asia & English is not my first language.

When I was watching some TV ads in Australia, I often heard that "buy fresh meat in our supermarket" or "try our fresh apples" or "we cook fresh chicken".

Then I feel confused. In my country, the word "Fresh" means "have just harvested" (for vegetables or fruit) & means "have just slaughtered" (for meat). Ex: In my country, if you say "I eat a fresh apple" means that u eat an apple that have just taken from the tree 5 mins ago". if you say "I cook fresh chicken" means that u slaughtered an alive chicken & then immediately (maybe after 1 or 2 hours) u cooked it then it is said that "you are cooking fresh chicken".

That makes sense cos in my developing country, refrigerator is very limited, not many people have equipment to store meat, so they have to cook meat immediately & thus they define "Fresh" ="have just harvested or have just slaughtered".

However, i asked some English people in Australia & in America, they means "Fresh" differently. For them, "Fresh" means "have not spoiled". Ex, the supermarket killed a chicken & then they put it into the fridge for 2-3 days, they then take the chicken out & sell it to you. Then the supermarket is saying that "I am selling a fresh chicken to you". It means "I am selling not-spoiled chicken to you though the chicken was dead for long period of time, it just has not spoiled cos the supermarket stored it in the fridge.

Likewise, the supermarket can use some preservatives to store apple for many months & now they are selling not-spoiled apples to you, then they can say "I am selling fresh apples to customers".

But How English people define "Fresh" in old time when fridge has not invented yet?

Do they mean "Fresh"="have just harvested or slaughtered"?

  • It's an expensive cosmetics shop
    – Fattie
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:20
  • BTW where are you from, UtUt? I want to move there :)
    – Fattie
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:23

4 Answers 4


I think you can define "fresh" best by what it's not. Fresh is:

  • not spoilt

And is generally:

  • not frozen
  • not dried
  • not tinned

Often the sense is chilled, but not always (fresh milk is chilled, longlife milk isn't, and wouldn't be described as fresh, fresh meat is always chilled)

Of course, before refrigeration, the only way to get something fresh was to pick it just before consumption (with a few exceptions - apples, onions etc. can be stored cool and dry for some time).

You can think of the condition being (approximately) the same as in the historical case, the technology to achieve that condition not being particularly relevant.

In the sense of bakery products, "fresh" should mean baked recently- for some value of recently appropriate to the product. Generally this would mean on site or nearby, and perhaps not packed in a sealed packet.

However to describe something as "not fresh" would implies that it's past its best - slightly stale bread for example, so it's not quite the opposite.

I've tried to capture the whole range of meanings, but I'm sure I've missed some!

  • " fresh meat is always chilled" so mean meat in supermarket is fresh?
    – UtUt
    Oct 25, 2013 at 16:05
  • " it's past its best", what "Best" mean? the "Best" means is the one that was slaughter 5 mins before & now u cook it. That is the very best.
    – UtUt
    Oct 25, 2013 at 16:10
  • I suggest looking up "past its best" - it's quite a common phrase.
    – Chris H
    Oct 25, 2013 at 16:12
  • Meat (apart from frozen and some cured) sold in the supermarket is indeed fresh - but you may find a butcher who will try to tell you that they sell fresher meat than the supermarket!
    – Chris H
    Oct 25, 2013 at 16:13
  • 2
    Perhaps the not frozen/dried/tinned/etc. could be summarised as not subjected to preservation treatments considered 'harsh'. Longlife milk is subjected to ultra-high-temperature treatment; pasteurised milk might still be sold as fresh even though it's been subjected to some treatment. Oct 25, 2013 at 16:16

Technically fresh should mean "recently from the source," as you indicate. However (probably as a result of marketing) the meaning has degraded, at least here in America. Since there are no (to my knowledge) legal barriers to using the term however you wish, people have taken to using it to mean anything that hasn't been frozen, previously cooked, or otherwise processed. Most people here understand there are two meanings, one used in general, and other used when someone is trying to sell you something.

You should also note the 80's/90's era slang term fresh (also funky fresh) meaning new and cool.

  • Chris has exactly explained the situation. It can mean (1) "not frozen", or (2) "not so old that you will die if you eat it." But indeed, in context, even a Westerner would understand that sometimes it "actually" means "fresh".
    – Fattie
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:24
  • Can anyone answer AtAt's literal end question: "But How English people define "Fresh" in old time when fridge has not invented yet?"
    – Fattie
    Sep 24, 2014 at 15:27

I can't speak for other parts of the world, but fresh in the United States means "not yet frozen" and "has not yet had a chance to decay"

Of course, if you are marketing something, you want to tell people that what food you are selling is fresh, because fresh food is considered to be better! There are laws that determine the labeling of food. This suggests that you would be better off using your nose and not trusting the label!

I should also mention that there is a reason why grocery stores throw away food. I would guess that part of the reason is that their "fresh" labels are no longer valid after a certain point.

NOTE: Dumpster divers happily eat the thrown away food. It is illegal to do to this in many places. In France, they actually throw poison on the food in dumpsters to prohibit this activity.

  • what u mean "not yet frozen"? if u means that then all stuffs in supermarket (fruit, meat) is not fresh cos all of them must be stored in fridge for sometimes? there is no way they sell meat that has just slaughtered.
    – UtUt
    Oct 25, 2013 at 16:02
  • @UtUt frozen means hardening like "ice" (e.g. frozen vegetables). it is possible to keep something at a lower temperature without freezing it (e.g. milk) Oct 25, 2013 at 16:04
  • in my country, Fresh = do not use anythings to preserve the meat or veg. What about in America, the chilled veg/meat is also called "Fresh"?
    – UtUt
    Oct 25, 2013 at 16:07

'Fresh', in the UK, means all sorts of things (or even not much at all in fanciful terms like 'ocean fresh' and 'oven fresh'). The best advice seems to be 'Look for a date-of-harvesting-etc stamp'. These usages are defined (or left mushy) by authorities higher than the vocab police.

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