Best Before Dates – How Important are They?

Cleaning, organizing and sorting the pantry seemed like a good project for a rainy Saturday and it got me thinking, “How dangerous is it really to consume food after its “best before” date and what are the guidelines for canned and packaged foods?”

Many seniors have food items stored that may be older than their grandchildren but when is it a must to toss an item?  Dented or bulging cans must go, but according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, while food may lose some of its freshness and flavor or have a change in texture, the “best before” date does not mean the food is unsafe to consume.  Nutritional content, such as Vitamin C may be lost past the date noted on the product and these dates refer to unopened products only.

The CFIA warns that using your sense of smell or taste to judge a food’s safety is not a good idea, and “when in doubt, throw it out!”  In the case of meal replacement formulas and nutritional supplements, the content is required to have an expiration date and if used past it’s date, may not have the same nutrient value as stated on the label.

In Canada, the “best before” date can be placed anywhere on the package and must be in both official languages.   It will appear with the year first, followed by the month and the day.  Check food labels for storage instructions.   It is illegal to sell food in Canada past it’s expiry date and in the case of infant formula, the product can coagulate and cause digestive problems for babies.

Foods that can be stretched safely beyond their expiry date:

  • Mayonnaise – is fine for 3-4 weeks past date as long as it’s stored under 20C
  • Cheese – cut off any mold and wrap carefully – good for 3 to 4 weeks longer
    (can be frozen but texture may change when thawed)
  • Butter and cream can be frozen for up to 12 months
  • Beef or Pork roasts can be refrigerated for 3-5 days but use raw chicken within one or two days
  • Freezing raw meat will extent it’s life by six month to a year
  • Dark chocolate – is good for up to two years at room temperature

source: CFIA

The government of Canada is in the process of modernizing food labeling to improve safety and make nutrition content clearer.  Consumers want to see the use of plain language implemented on food labels to allow for consistent and clear disclosure of content including nutrition facts, date markings and ingredients.

For more information about food safety, labeling and recalls, visit the CFIA website at: .