Know before you throw: The truth about Best-Before dates

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How many times have you found yourself looking through your pantry, coming across that can of soup you’d purchased all those months ago and forgotten about, only to find that it’s past the Best-Before date? How often has this ended with you simply tossing it into the bin?

This is not an uncommon occurrence for most Canadians. There’s nothing worse than having to throw away good food that you’ve spent your hard-earned dollar for. Not only is it a waste of money, but it means that all the precious resources that went into make the said food, also goes to waste. In fact, according to a 2014 report from Value Chain Management International, $32 billion worth of food ends up in landfills or composters each year. To put this in context, 47 percent of this food waste happens in the home.

In an effort to reduce this number, I’m here to tell you the truth about best-before dates. Now there are a few things you need to know. We can start with getting some definitions right: Best-Before dates (also known as “Best-By” and “Use-By” dates) indicates the amount of time a product will retain its original taste and quality that the manufacturer intended. It’s not to be confused with the expiration date on goods, where after this date should just be thrown away.

One thing to note is that in Canada, there aren’t any strict guidelines dictating how companies should label their Best-Before dates these are all left to the manufacturer’s discretion. This is where most people get confused. For the most part, foods past their Best-Before dates can still be safe to consume. At this point, I must specify that this only applies to unopened goods that have been stored properly.

You might also find that not all foods have an Expiration date and only provide a Best-Before date. That’s because Expiration dates are only required for certain foods such as baby formula, or other products that are considered nutritional supplements.

A word of caution, while it is a fact that food can still be eaten past their best-before dates, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe to eat all foods that have passed this date. If a can is dented, leaking, or has bloated, toss it. If it’s changed colour or has developed a strange smell, toss it. When in doubt, always be on the safe side and throw it out. Your health and safety are not worth the few dollars you might save. This, of course, applies to all food regardless of whether its Best-Before date has passed.

There are also other ways on how to save costs if you’re frequently finding yourself tossing produce. You may want to consider purchasing frozen fruits or vegetables as an alternative. In many cases, they’re cheaper than buying the fresh stuff, and despite some myths, may also have more nutritional value than their less frigid counterparts in the winter. Fresh produce is often picked before they’re properly ripened, and are covered in waxes and other additives to reduce spoilage before they find themselves shipped across borders to your local grocery store. Frozen fruits and veggies, on the other hand, are harvested just as their ripened, and soon after frozen and packaged at the peak of their nutritional value. For best flavour and texture, I find that produce like beans, broccoli, carrots, and corn freeze the best. Vegetables with higher water content like lettuce and tomatoes tend not to fair as well. So while both frozen and fresh produce have their pros and cons, if you’re looking to save a little money and maybe save some trips to the grocery store, implementing more frozen produce to your grocery list might be a good idea.

Now that you’re equipped with a bit more knowledge on the truth about Best-before dates, the next time you find yourself faced with that old can of soup, just remember-  that date is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.  It may not seem like much, but I believe that it’s the lack of awareness on the impact of our consumption and waste that’s caused this to become such a big problem in Canada and other first world countries. We can take the first step to change this by first changing our own behaviours and making more conscientious decisions about food.

If you’re interested in finding out more on this topic, you can go to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website for information. Happy eating!

References
http://vcm-international.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Food-Waste-in-Canada-27-Billion-Revisited-Dec-10-2014.pdf
http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/information-for-consumers/fact-sheets-and-infographics/date-labelling/eng/1332357469487/1332357545633
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/general-food-safety-tips/how-read-food-date-labels-packaging.html
http://www.cpma.ca/advocate/issue-management/regulations-and-policy/protective-coatings-for-fruits-and-vegetables
Linshan Li, Ronald B. Pegg, Ronald R. Eitenmiller, Ji-Yeon Chun, Adrian L. Kerrihard, Selected nutrient analyses of fresh, fresh-stored, and frozen fruits and vegetables, In Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Volume 59, 2017, Pages 8-17, ISSN 0889-1575, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889157517300418?via%3Dihub


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