Many of us would agree that one of the first things we check on whatever we are taking out of the fridge or cupboard is the best before date. This has become a hard rule that most people follow. If you see a past date you toss it. Unfortunately, the idea that past that date the food is now spoiled is a huge misconception. Another popular misconception is that “best before” and “expiry” dates are completely different things.
Let’s start with Best Before dates.
Looking at Health Canada’s website, a best before date is defined as the “durable life” of the product. This is the anticipated amount of time that an unopened food product, stored at the correct conditions will retain freshness, taste, nutritional value and other qualities that may be claimed by the manufactory. This date gives you a guarantee on freshness.
What about Expiry Dates?
Expiry Dates are required on foods that have strict compositional and nutritional specifications within a set timeline. Items such as meal replacements, infant formula and nutritional supplements require expiry dates and they should not be bought, sold or eaten if that date has past. They should be discarded.
Now Expiry Dates
are required on foods that have strict compositional and nutritional specifications within a set timeline. Items such as meal replacements, infant formula and nutritional supplements require expiry dates and they should not be bought, sold or eaten if that date has past. They should be discarded.
But what about “Packaged on” dates?
In addition to these 2 types of dates, certain foods also contain a “Packaged on” date. These are used on retail-packed foods that have a durable life of 90 days or less. These products also need to include either a best-before date or a similar call out to inform the consumer when the ideal time to consume the product is.
Now, here’s the big misconception – a Best Before date is NOT the be all, end all. Even Health Canada states that a best before date is not by any means an indicator of food safety (before or after). This date is solely an indication of freshness, flavour and nutritional value (for example, Vitamin C content in orange juice) and it is perfectly fine to consume food after a best before date as long as it hasn’t spoiled.
When we look at food from a food safety perspective, the best before or expiry date really has very little impact. Things can go wrong with food before or after that date due to many factors including when the food was opened, how it was stored, prepared, the type of product, etc.
Michael von Massow, an associate professor of food, agriculture and resource economics at the University of Guelph believes that Best Before dates are “probably the least well understood piece of information on food packaging today. People perceive that the date that a product hits its best-before date, it’s done”.
Now, here’s the really dark side to this misconception. A recent report from the National Zero Waste Council called best-before dates a major contributor to food waste in Canada. One recent study found that the average Canadian wastes or loses about 400 kilograms of food per year, with nearly half of that loss occurring at home.
A wide range of ideas are now being put forward as a means to combat this food waste issue with of course the first being education. Generally, if a food changes colour or appearance, or develops a bad smell it is no longer safe to eat. Dented, leaking or bulging cans should also be tossed. Otherwise, well, expect the product to be perhaps a little less fresh, a little less tasty, and maybe not as nutrient dense, but still completely edible.