CANADA: 'Best Before' confusion leading to needless food waste
You've opened up your fridge to find a tub of unopened yogurt with a Best Before date that says it expired three days ago. Would you toss it out? Most of us would. After all, "when it doubt, throw it out," we've all been told.
In fact, though, you would likely be throwing away perfectly good food. As long as that yogurt had been stored properly since being bought, it would still be good a few days after its Best Before date. The same is true with milk, cheeses and countless other foods.
And yet every year, thousands of kilograms of food are needlessly thrown away simply because consumers misunderstand what the Best Before date means.
Most of us see them as expiration dates, when they're often anything but. In fact, a Best Before date says nothing about the safety of a food.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency points out that Best Before dates are only an indicator of the "quality" of the product -- meaning how long it will maintain its optimum taste and texture. They don't guarantee that the food is safe before that date, and they don't necessarily mean that the food is unsafe after that date.
"You can buy and eat foods after the 'best before' date has passed," the CFIA says on its website. "However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed."
In other words, Best Before dates are merely suggestions about how long a food will taste "fresh," not whether it's safe.
The only foods that the government insists must have expiration dates are infant formula, meal replacements and nutritional supplements. These must come with an "expiration date" because the vitamins in these foods can deteriorate after that, making them useless.
What might also surprise many shoppers: while the government requires Best Before dates on foods that will keep fresh for less than 90 days, it's left up to food makers to pick those dates; there is little oversight from the government.
Another surprise: Those canned and packaged items in your cupboard? These don't need to have a Best Before date at all.
Not that it stops manufacturers from adding dates to such products anyway.
Check the labels of cookies, crackers, pasta mixes, canned tuna and beans and most come with Best Before dates. But none of these dates have anything to do with food safety; in fact, these foods are typically safe to eat long after their Best Before dates have passed. (Of course, that's assuming the can isn't bulging or leaking. It's never safe to eat from those cans.)