Best Before? Expiry? What’s the difference!

Here’s a quick guide to help you understand how to use expiration and best before dates, to know what each term means and when food is safe to consume, to help reduce your food waste.

Best Before Date
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a best before date is an indicator of quality, not safety. The date provided anticipates the amount of time an unopened food product will retain its freshness, taste, nutritional value or any qualities the manufacturer claims, assuming the food item is stored under appropriate conditions.

Expiration Date
In Canada, there are only 5 foods that have expiry dates: infant formula, nutritional supplements, meal replacements, formulated liquid diets (for people who use tube feeding) and foods used in low-energy diets (which can only be accessed via prescription). These expiry dates ensure the food items will contain their nutritional content until that date.

Packaging Date
Similar to best before dates, packaging dates are used on food items that have a shelf life of 90 days or less and must also say how long it will stay fresh. Meat products are a common place to find these dates.

Important Considerations
Since best before dates are an indicator of quality, not safety, you can certainly eat foods after the date has passed, assuming the food is unopen. You may notice a reduction in food quality and the nutrient content may also reduce, but generally still considered to be safe. Once the food has been opened, the shelf life changes – check this great resource for estimated timelines! Using mold as your only indicator of food safety is not your best bet since some harmful microorganisms are invisible.

Tips for Success
– Buy less: make a plan for the week, or a few days, and shop accordingly
– Scan your fridge once a week to see what needs to be used up and make a meal around that
– Freeze meat when you purchase it to keep it fresh longer