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Best before, not bad after

by | Aug 18, 2020 | Blog

Understanding food labeling to reduce waste and create a hunger-free community.

Many of us have done it: Find an unopened box of pasta at the back of the pantry, see that it’s past its Best Before date, and throw it in the trash or compost to be safe. But is that really necessary? “Best before” and other food labelling terms can cause confusion, and many are surprised to learn that best before dates are simply a guideline, not a rule set in stone.

Best Before and expiration dates are two separate labels with separate purposes and different requirements. Understanding the difference provides insight into why the Calgary Food Bank distributes some food near or past its Best Before date, why this practice is safe, and how it can contribute to a hunger-free community.

Expiration vs. Best Before dates

An expiration date is the date after which the nutritional value of the food may decline to below what’s printed on the nutrition label. An expiration date is only required for certain products, including baby formula and meal replacements. This is because these products have specific compositional specifications that might degrade after the expiration date.

Best Before dates, on the other hand, simply refer to the date after which a food product’s qualities like taste and texture might be impacted. Unopened shelf stable foods that are stored properly are safe to eat well past their best before date, though they might lose some of their flavour or their texture may change. Dry pasta may break more easily, or sauces and salsas may become slightly less flavourful. However, they are still safe to consume and retain their nutritional value.

Even for fresh food like meat, dairy, eggs, or bread, best before dates are more of a guide than a rule. These products often stay safe to eat past their best before date, but should be inspected for signs (and smells) of spoilage. When in doubt, throw it out!

Storage and handling matter most

Any food can become unsafe to eat if handled or stored the wrong way. Shelf stable food should be kept in a dry, dark place and protected from extreme temperatures. Meat, dairy, eggs and some produce should be kept in the fridge. You can freeze many fresh foods if you don’t think you will eat them in time. Simply defrost them safely when you need them.

The Calgary Food Bank keeps the safety of our clients top of mind. We have strict food handling and safety protocols that ensure food is kept at the right temperature and given to clients promptly. Any shelf stable product in damaged, dented, bulging, or swelling packaging is discarded. We accept pasta regardless of best before date (our dry climate protects it longer-term), canned goods up to 18 months past their best before date and other dry goods up to six months past their best before date.

When in Doubt Throw it Out
Avoiding food waste and feeding YYC

A 2019 report by Second Harvest estimated that almost 60 percent of food in Canada goes to waste. While much of this waste occurs in the home, 32 percent could be rescued at earlier stages and redistributed to individuals and communities in need. That’s where the Calgary Food Bank comes in.

We collect viable quality food directly from food industry and redirect it to support communities locally, provincially, and nationally. Our experience and expertise, as well as our capacity to accept and distribute large volumes of food, allow us to work within the food industry’s supply chain to ensure food is delivered to where it is needed most.

Last year, we redistributed over 9.6 million pounds of food with the help of our 362 food industry partners including grocery stores, farmers markets, wholesalers, processors, and farms.

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