Food

What does the 'best before' date really mean?

By: Canadian Living
Canadian Living
Food

What does the 'best before' date really mean?

By: Canadian Living
I have a habit of collecting expired sour cream. In fact, in my fridge right now is an unopened tub of sour cream many days past the 'best before' date. Would you toss it out? How do I know if it's still OK to eat? Isn't sour cream supposed to smell sour?  Most people would probably throw it out, after all, we've long been told " when in doubt, throw it out". 'Best before' dates can be confusing. And what does 'best before' really mean? Comedian Jerry Seinfeld also has some questions about so-called 'expiration' dates. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es1npWZ7zxY In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) lays out the requirements for date labelling on pre-packaged foods. The 'best before' date refers to the time when an unopened packaged food, stored under appropriate conditions, will retain its freshness, taste and nutritional value. Unopened and storage conditions are key - once the food is opened, the 'best before' date no longer applies. Contrary to popular belief, the 'best before' date does not guarantee product safety, either during or after the date. So really, it's more of a freshness date, rather than any indication of food safety. 'Best before' dates are required on all food products that keep fresh for less than 90 days (most fresh foods), along with the required storage conditions, like 'keep refrigerated'. Surprisingly, they are not required on food products with a shelf life greater than 90 days. So all those canned goods and packaged foods in your cupboard don't need to have a 'best before' date. Although many manufacturers choose to add this information to their products. If included, the best before date must have the year first, then the month and the day. For example:  Best before  15 MA 23  Meilleur avant best before dates on cans As always there are a few exceptions. ' Expiration' dates must be on any meal replacements, nutritional supplements and infant formulas. These products should not eaten after the expirations date as they may have lost their nutritional value. Fresh food packaged at the store (ie. grocery store salads, meals, raw meat and poultry, etc) must have a ' packaged on' as well as the 'best before' date. The other thing to remember is that the manufactures set the 'best before' dates. There are no government regulations saying what the dates should be or how they should be determined. With all this, it's easy for consumers to confuse 'expiration' dates with 'best before' dates and unnecessarily throw out food. As long as the package is unopened, has been stored in the proper conditions, and for canned goods, the can is not bulging, food can be eaten past the 'best before' date, although the freshness and texture may not be its best. Best not to overstock your pantry in the first place though. Remember, most food products go on sale at least every 3 to 4 months. When there is a sale, buy only what you will use in that time. If you are not picky about brand, most staples are on sale every few weeks. For more information on how the read food date labels see the Healthy Canadians site or the CFIA's site.    
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What does the 'best before' date really mean?

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