The Best Before Date

So what’s the deal with best before dates? Are they just a “suggestion”, or something that if ignored will cause you to have a new type of relationship with your toilet? My very good friend, wink wink nug nug… you know who you are, throws food out that are probably a week away from their best before date. While others I know will eat it a week after (unless there is mould). But who’s right?

Mouldy Cheese

Just cut those parts off, the rest is still good... right?

So what is a best before date? It is defined as the anticipated amount of time that an unopened food product, when correctly stored, will retain all of its qualities claimed by the manufacturer. It is legally required for any food product that will keep fresh for 90 days or less.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA):

“‘Best before’ dates do not guarantee product safety. However, they do give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened foods you are buying. ”

What this means is to us is that, most likely, a product will go “bad” after its best before date. But of course there are always exceptions to the rule. It can go bad earlier, but it can also go bad later. That being said, sometimes it LOOKS and TASTES fine, but you’ll be throwing up less than 6 hours after eating it. A best before date is the just the food manufactures’ warranty. What they are trying to say with that little printed date is that, “to the best of our knowledge this (unopened) product should be up to our standards till this date”. They’re standards include safety, texture, colour, flavour and nutritional value.

Do not confuse a best before date with an expiration date. This type of data of a food label can be found on the following products:

  • formulated liquid diets (a nutritionally complete diet for persons using oral or tube feeding methods)
  • foods represented for use in a very low-energy diet (foods sold only by a pharmacist and only with a written order from a physician)
  • meal replacements (a formulated food that, by itself, can replace one or more daily meals)
  • nutritional supplements (a food sold or represented as a supplement to a diet that may be inadequate in energy and essential nutrients)
  • human milk substitutes (infant formula)

The CFIA recommends that you do NOT eat these foods after their expiration date. Throw them out! This is probably because these products have specific nutritional requirements that if changed may cause harm to a person.

So let’s recap what we’ve learned:

  1. A best before date does not tell you if your food is 100% safe. 
  2. A food manufacturer can only guarantee the shelf life of an unopened food product. Once you have opened your container/package, the true best before date may change.
  3. Smelling and tasting a food product to see if its good is NOT a good indicator of food safety. A product may look and taste fine but give you food poisoning.
  4. Eating food after its best before date doesn’t mean you WILL get sick or that the product is ALWAYS gross, there is just no guarantee from the manufacturer anymore.
  5. Throw out a product after its expiration date!
  6. (My favorite) When in doubt THROW IT OUT!
Best Before Can

I wouldn't risk it, would you?

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About Adi

A baker, a food scientist and an overall lover of new food creations

One response to “The Best Before Date

  1. Great post!
    What do you think about leaving groceries in your car while your on errands…?
    Let’s hear what you have to say about that!

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