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Understanding Best Before Dates on Food Packaging

August 15, 2017 by Catherine Atchison, Registered Dietitian

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Understanding Best Before Dates on Food Packaging

You’re rushing to make your morning smoothie when you notice the “best before” date on the yogurt was four days ago. You toss it in anyways, but spend the morning wondering whether it should have been composted instead. Read on to learn more about date labels and how to use them.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates date labels on foods, and there are two major types:

  1. Best before, durable life or packaged on date
  2. Expiration dates

Best before, durable life and packaged on dates are essentially the same. They tell you about the freshness, nutrition and quality of the food when it’s stored according to directions and is unopened. After the best before date, the quality may be less than when it was packaged, and there may be less of some nutrients.

Once you open a jar, can or package of food, the best before date doesn’t apply because the quality of the opened food can decrease faster.

What foods have a best before, durable life or packaged on date?

  • All foods with a shelf life of 90 days or less are required to have a best before or durable life date.  For example, yogurt and pre-packaged foods like hummus, guacamole and tofu have them.
  • Foods packaged in the store where they are sold also have a best before date or a packaged on date. Foods with a “packaged on” date should also have more information on how many days the product will stay fresh either on the label or nearby Store made ready-to-bake pizza or a pre-packed container of store made deli salad will also have best before or packaged on dates.

Food with a shelf life of longer than 90 days are not required to have best before dates, but manufacturers can choose to add one. If they add a best before date, it means the same thing - foods before their best before keep their nutrition and quality when unopened and stored properly.

Should I throw food away when it’s past the best before date?

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency say that you may be able to eat foods after the best before date has passed, but the foods may not be as fresh or have the same nutrients or quality.

Best before, durable life and packaged on dates are not a guarantee that a perishable food is safe. Follow storage directions, and use the guidelines for fridge and freezer storage or the Storage Chart from the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education to keep your food safe to eat. Aim to eat perishable foods sooner rather than later for the best quality and to lower the chance of food going bad.

How are expiration dates different?

Expiration dates on food are only used when there are strict regulations on their nutrient content, like infant formula and liquid diets prescribed by a doctor. Always throw out these foods when they’re past their expiration date.

4 steps you can take to make sure your food is safe.

  1. Aim to keep cold foods cold, all the way home from the store. An insulated grocery bag or small soft-sided cooler bag can help food stay cold.
  2. At home, store canned goods in a clean, cool, dry place. Canned goods like tomatoes are best stored for about 18 months, and canned fish and vegetables may be stored up to two-five years.
  3. Make sure cans are not dented, leaking, rusting or bulging.
  4. Store opened condiments in the fridge using good food safety practices. Limit the time condiments are left sitting out on the counter. Opened mustard or relish can be stored in the fridge for up to about 12 months and opened mayonnaise can be kept in the fridge up to two months.

Check out the resources below for more information. I hope this helps you choose which foods to keep or compost!


Related blogs

Answers to Your Holiday Food Safety Questions
Shopping Sense: Store it Right

Recommended resources

Food Storage Times
Be Food Safe: Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education
Date Labelling on Pre-packaged Foods
Still Tasty

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