Common sense on a date

December 9, 2014

“Best Before” doesn’t mean “Unsafe After”

In Canada, “best before” dates are required on all food products with a shelf life of 90 days or less. Most of us put great trust in them, with good reason – they give us an indication of a product’s quality and freshness. However, “best before” dates may also cause us to waste more food (and grocery money) than necessary because many of us have come to unconsciously interpret them as “unsafe after” dates.

That’s not the case. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “You can buy and eat foods after the “best before” date has passed. However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed. Some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content, may also be lost. Remember that “best before” dates are not indicators of food safety, neither before nor after the date. They apply to unopened products only.”

There’s plenty of room for interpretation in that advice, and the CFIA also counsels, “when in doubt, throw it out.” (Read more here and here.)

So what’s the bottom line? Most of us probably err acutely on the side of caution and throw out much more food than we should. “Best before” doesn’t automatically mean “unsafe after”. As with many other areas of life, it’s wise to apply a bit of common sense before acting – especially with something as sacred as food in a world straining to produce enough of it.

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One Response to “Common sense on a date”

  1. Paul Falvo said

    I wonder about packaging — my understanding is that plastic packaging breaks down with time. A product itself may not expire. But, plastic may leach into it from an old container. True?

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