Is it safe to ignore the best-before date?

We’ve all done it: stood looking at food in the fridge or on a discount stand at the grocery store with expiry dates either recently passed –or soon to. Or perhaps you are eyeballing something that has been in your pantry for a while and wonder if it is still ok.

Knowing that food waste is one of the biggest contributors to blowing your grocery budget, you wonder- what’s the harm?

That’s a good question. Here is the skinny on food spoilage.

Best Before….

Best before on packaging has nothing to do with food spoiling, but has to do with taste and texture of food. After the date has passed, you may find that these products are dry or taste less fresh,  but are still consumable. It is important that you follow recommended food storage instructions on a given food product.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, there are only five foods that require solid expiration dates (i.e. deemed unsafe to consume after a specific date).

  • Baby formula and other human milk substitutes.
  • Nutritional supplements.
  • Meal replacements.
  • Pharmacist-sold foods for very low-energy diets.
  • Formulated liquid diets

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to the dates on the other foods, but a little common sense should come into play. As a rule of thumb, when in doubt, throw it out.

Sensory perception

For other products, use your good, old-fashioned sensory perception to determine if a product is expired or not.

In addition to the obvious (i.e. mold growing- goodbye!), be on the lookout for smells and discolouration. With spoiled meat, you’ll be greeted with a strong odour. Spoiled dairy products smell awful as well.

Self (food) preservation

Beware of things like freezer burn as well, which can ruin food and cause you to waste it. Make sure you package food tightly and label it with the date before you put it in the freezer (use oldest stock first). It varies on the cut you are using, but generally poultry and beef can be frozen for about six to nine months. Fish is a little more delicate, so it shouldn’t be frozen for more than six months, tops.