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I know the meaning of the "Best before" tag on food products. However, I am a bit uncertain how to interpret the phrase as a language construct. Is it a simple elision like "[consume] best before date"? Or is "best" perhaps a verb here?

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    It's telegraphese. It could stand for 'Best eaten before' (still a reduced form ... from 'This food would be at its best if eaten before' / 'It would be best to eat this food before' / ...). But with such deleted forms, the original can often merely be guessed at, meaning the question is a matter of opinion. // However, telegraphese is often used, and totally acceptable where there is no real possibility of misinterpretation (*'Best thrown away before ...'). Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 11:29
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    Technically, best is an adjective. Here it's a predicate adjective, and the rest of the sentence has been thrown away to get the label right. Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 15:20
  • You asked for the syntax: it's adj+prep, a short form of "best eaten before", or similar.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 18:44

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(Cambridge dictionnary) best-before date noun [ C ] COMMERCE UK
(US best-if-used-by date)
the date after which food or drink begins to lose its quality or taste:

Here is one likely short prototype:

  • It is best to consume before

However, there is no necessity to confine oneself to a particular form. The following is as well an option.

  • this product is best if consumed before

As a mere abbreviation of several possibilities (from user Djin Tonic, see comments)

  • (This) item/product/… (is) at its best before [date]
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    You can get to it directly with This item is at its best before [date].
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 10:21
  • Funny I thought "best" could be a verb (absurd) or an adverb (as in "consume this best before date") but I didn't think it could be an adjective as in "this product is best before date". :-) Thank you all for the explanation.
    – Sixtease
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 9:51
  • @Sixtease In fact, "best" (usually the superlative of "good") has been turned into a verb (to defeat or be better than somebody). (OALD) In this locution, however, there is no way to consider "best" as the verb form.
    – LPH
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 10:34

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