Did you know that best before dates have nothing to do with food safety? It’s true!
That’s why it’s a ‘best before’ and not ‘safe before’ date.
So what does that date mean? It’s all about quality. A best before date is the date by which the manufacturer guarantees freshness, taste, nutritional value and any other claim the manufacturer has made about the food.
It has absolutely nothing to do with the safety of the food, and that’s coming from both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (visit those links to learn more about best before dates).
Have you ever noticed the different parts of raw egg whites? There’s usually a gooey, gelatinous membrane around the yolk (called thick albumen) and a slightly watery part (called thin albumen) around that.
The bigger the gelatinous part, the fresher the egg. Lots of watery stuff = not so fresh.
But here’s the thing… a not so fresh egg can still be perfectly safe to use. The texture won’t be as good for poached or fried eggs, but it’s great scrambled or in baking. And less fresh eggs are easier to peel when hard boiled. It’s the super fresh ones that give you trouble.
So if your eggs have gone a little past the best before date, don’t toss them! Whip up a batch of pancakes or hard boil them to use in salads or sandwiches.
You can even freeze eggs to use later.
In fact, many less-than-fresh food items can simply be used in cooking or baking. Milk past its date that looks and smells fine can be used in baking. Wilted vegetables can be put into soups, stews or sauces. Hard cheese with no visible mold can be grated, frozen and used in a recipe down the road.
Something may not be fresh, but it can definitely still be safe and usable!
If something tastes ‘off’ don’t eat it. If something tastes the way it’s supposed to, but you just don’t like it, find a way to cook with it, or give it to someone who does like it.
That’s not what the taste part of a best before date refers to.
What it means is that the taste promised is the taste you’ll get (or should get) as long as you eat it before that date.
After the best before date, flavours can fade. Something prepared with a lot of garlic, for example, can start tasting less garlicky after the best before date. The food is still safe to eat and can still taste good, it just doesn’t have the punch-you-in-the-face garlic burst promised by the manufacturer.
Similar to taste, nutritional value can start to fade after the best before date.
Many orange juice manufacturers claim their juice provides 100% (and often more) of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C. The best before date means they guarantee it will have at least that amount up until that date.
After the best before date, that vitamin C amount can start to drop. So maybe you only get 90% instead of 100%.
You know those yogurts that claim to have billions of those good tummy bacteria? After the best before date, some of those billions may move out. That doesn’t mean bad bacteria has moved in.
A reduction in nutritional value doesn’t mean the food is no longer nutritious. It just means the amounts of some nutrients on the label may be a little lower.
Many foods can still safely (and deliciously) be consumed after their best before date.
Food merchants like grocery stores typically don’t sell food after the best before date. They either toss it, or sometimes sell it at a reduced price. Many consumers will also throw out perfectly good food that they spent perfectly good money on simply because it’s past the best before date.
For merchants, consider selling these food items at a reduced price (FoodHero can make that easy for you!).
For consumers, look for sales and use FoodHero to find healthy and delicious foods at a lower price, and don’t be so quick to throw something out because that quality date has come and gone.
How long after best before dates can you safely consume a food? Every food is different, so make Google your friend. Next time you have a food item past its best before date, Google “how to tell if [food item] is safe to eat” to help you decide.
If you’re doubting the safety of a food, of course err on the side of caution and toss it, but also make a note of why it went bad. Did you buy too much? Did you not store it properly? Was it not visible in the fridge? Learn from it so you don’t make the same mistake again.
Here are 10 food items you can eat after that quality date has gone by, according to the Food Network:
Canned goods - If kept in a cool, dry spot, and the cans show no sign of damage, rust or leakage, they can safely be consumed up to 4 years past the best before date.
Hard cheese - Typically okay up to a month after the best before date. Even if there is visible mold, you can cut that part off and the rest is still good.
Boxed cereal - It might taste stale, but you can still eat it up to 6 months after the best before date.
Eggs - Some say if an egg floats it means it’s bad, but according to the American Egg Board, even a floating egg can still be safe! They say to use your sense of smell. If it smells off, it is.
Frozen food - As long as it stays frozen the entire time it’s stored, most frozen foods will keep well past their best before date. It may get freezer burn, which will impact the taste, but not the safety. Different foods will have different safety guidelines. Here’s a handy chart of storage times for different foods in the freezer.
Cookies, crackers & chips - They get stale, which obviously impacts the taste, but as long as they don’t smell bad, they should be ok to eat or cook with.
Butter - If that date is approaching, put it in the freezer to use later. If you have a lot, measure it out into ¼ cup portions to freeze separately and use it in recipes.
Bread - Give it a good look over for signs of mold. If you don’t see any, you’re good to go. And if you store it in the fridge or freezer instead of on the counter, it will keep even longer.
Packaged salad greens - If they’re mushy or slimy, it’s time to toss them, but if they’ve just wilted, they’re still okay to eat. If it’s too wilted to use in a salad, here are 10 other ways to use lettuce.
Dry pasta - Since it’s dry, it will keep much longer past its best before date. As long as it looks and smells normal, it’s okay to eat. Again, it may taste a bit stale, but you can mask that by using it soups or stews. Pasta fagioli, anyone?
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