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The important but subtle difference between best before and expiration dates

Have you ever eaten something that was slightly past its 'best before' date? Perhaps there are items in your cupboard that you don't even know how long you've had them. Old spices won't hurt you, but they also lose most of their benefits, so knowing the prime window to use your foods is key. Registered dietician and nutrionist Nista Saxena is breaking down the differencce between expiration dates and best before dates once and for all, and letting us know which foods have a little wiggle room.  

An expiration date is a true definition of do not use after this date due to potential destabilization and risk of harm or loss of active properties. 

A best before date is when a manufacturer decides that their product will lose maximum freshness and nutritional properties by, and not appear in it’s best state.

And then there are other foods that don't require a date at all. Foods that stay as they are for longer than 90 days, such as dried pasta, do not need a best before date. 

“Best Before” is exactly what it sounds like, when a food is at its best before you eat it! It is created by the manufacturer. Food is not rotten after the best before date; but it may be less fresh in appearance and texture and have less potency in nutrition. Importantly, once a package of food is OPENED and exposed to air, the best before date no longer applies

An expiration date is a date after which a product is consumed, it may be harmful or dangerous to a person. Often these items are used by vulnerable parts of our population, elderly, infants and immunocompromised people, so safety is key

There are only 5 products that contain expiration dates in Canada

  • Baby formula/human milk susbstitutes
  • Nutritional supplements (ensure)
  • Meal replacements
  • Pharmacist-sold solid foods for very low diets
  • Formulated liquid diets

Now, we're breaking down how long past their best before dates that you can safely consume common foods

Milk

Use within 2 to 3 days after the marked best before date.  Use your nose and eyes, and if you think it’s gone off before this, toss it. 

After Opening (this invalidates the BB): Use fluid milk within 7 days

Eggs

Can be consumed up to 3 weeks after the marked best before date if refrigerated and intact.

Poultry and Fish

If kept in fridge, be sure to use within 1 to 2 days. If cooked and then kept in fridge, you should use within 5 days. Fish can be frozen and kept for 9 to 12 months, but you should seal well to avoid freezerburn. 

 

Meats

Meat should be kept in the fridge and used within 3 to 5 days. If cooked, it can be eaten within 5 days. Meat can be frozen for 9 to 12 months.

Spices

Spices are best used within six months after opening and though they can last up to 1 year after opening if kept air-tight and dry. Spices lose their flavor and antioxidant and health properties diminish over time.

Canned Goods

Use within 2-5 years, but always discard cans if they are bulging or dented. 

Pasta and Dry Goods (lentils, dry beans etc.)

These items are typically good 1 to 2 years after the best before date as long as they are kept air-tight and dry.

With all foods, it's important trust your senses (smell and how it looks) and when in doubt throw it out!