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Friday, 6 November 2015

Do you pay attention to "best before" and "expiry date" labels on foods before buying?

"Best before" dates and proper storage tips to avoid food safety risk.

by Jim Chan

Many consumers check the "best before" or "expiry date" labels on food packages before buying them. A best before date is the manufacturer's message to the consumer that the food will be fresh and of the highest quality and nutrient value as listed on the label. After that date, the food may still be safe but the promise of freshness is no longer stand. The best advise for consumers is to read the best before date and if the date has already passed, don't buy it and look for another fresher product.

What is the different between a best before date (or use by date) and an expiry date?

Information from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) website (CFIA - Food Label: Date Codesadvisory on Date Labelling on Pre-packaged Foods :

"Best before" Date

  • "Best before" dates and proper storage instructions (if they differ from normal room temperature) must appear on pre-packaged foods that will keep fresh for 90 days or less, and are packaged at a place other than the retail store from which they are sold. 
  • "Best before" dates do not guarantee product safety. However, they do give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened foods you are buying.
  • Retail-packed foods that have a durable life date of 90 days or less must be labelled with
    • the packaging date (known as "packaged on" date); and
    • the durable life* of the food on the label or on a poster next to the food
* durable life can be expressed several ways, for example, the number of days a product will retain its freshness or may be applied as a "best before" date.

Expiration Date

  • Expiration dates must be used on the following products:
    • formulated liquid diets (a nutritionally complete diet for persons using oral or tube feeding methods)
    • foods represented for use in a very low-energy diet (foods sold only by a pharmacist and only with a written order from a physician)
    • meal replacements (a formulated food that, by itself, can replace one or more daily meals)
    • nutritional supplements (a food sold or represented as a supplement to a diet that may be inadequate in energy and essential nutrients)
    • human milk substitutes (infant formula)
  • After the expiry date, the food may not have the same nutrient content declared on the label.
  • Food should not be eaten if the expiration date has passed. They should be discarded.

"Use by" Date

  • The Food and Drug Regulations state the terms "use by" and "employez avant" may replace "best before" for pre-packaged fresh yeast only.
  • It must be presented in the same form and manner as the "best before" date.

What does a best before (or use by) date and an expiry date tell consumer?

In general, a best before date tells consumer about the freshness and shelf life of unopened food in the original package, once the package is opened, there is no guarantee the food will have the same nutritional value, taste or texture. Some food can be frozen to keep beyond its best-before date, but consumers should contact manufacturers for information about freezing and storing period of the products.

However, an expiry date tells consumer that the food maintains its microbiological and physical stability, as well as the nutrient content listed on the label. It is important to use the food before the expiry date to avoid potential food safety risk and to get the most nutritional value from it. Also, food may still smell or taste fine after the expiry date has passed but it can be risky, so consumer should use their judgment weather they want to use the food. Best recommendation is ''when in doubt, throw it out"

Investigation: How supermarkets change best before date to turn 'old' food into fresh food (Video by CBC Marketplace)   CBC Marketplace Investigation

Food safety tips on storing food in refrigerator

  1. Refrigeration compartment - Keep temperature at 4°C /40° F, or colder. 
    Bacteria can multiply rapidly at temperatures above 4°C/ 40°F, or in the Danger Zone, so keep food cold and safe by chilling food properly is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Always keep a fridge thermometer inside the refrigerator at all times to keep tabs on the temperature. 
  2. Freezer compartment - Keep temperature at -18°C (0°F) to keep food items frozen solid. Fresh meat, poultry or fish should be freeze immediately if not use within a few days. If consumer wants to freeze food to keep beyond its best-before date, remember to write the
    date when the food is put into the freezer on packages in order to keep track of storage period. (Note: In the summer months when it is hot and humid in the kitchen, the refrigerator and freezer temperature can get warmer. Use the thermometer in the fridge and freezer to check that they stay cold enough.)

More information on how to keep cold food safe:

See what Dr. Justin Beaver has to say about 
home food safety

Related linkCBC Marketplace TV - Investigation of Best Before Date scam


  1. Hi, I work in a supermarket in Ohio and many times, we were told by managers to repack old meat and fish after sitting on refrigerator shelevs for days, they passed the use by date for weeks sometimes. Staff are afraid to speak out because the managers are nasty.

    1. Thank you for your message. I hope the supermarket is storing the meat & fish properly too as if the fridge temperature is not correct (or in the Danger Zone), food such as meats & fish can spoil faster, even before the best before date (or use by date). Repacking spoiled meat & fish is a no no as the pathogen load will be so high that can also increase risk of food poisoning. Sounds like you have a bad team of managers only care for profit & not the health of the customers. I strongly suggest a call to the local health inspector. Good luck.

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  12. I recently purchased some fresh chicken which the label clearly indicated packaged the day I brought them but when I got home and opened the package, the chicken already gone bad and with a rotten egg smell. I called the market and the manager told me that nothing wrong with their meat products.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I think you should contact your local health inspector to request an inspection for your complaint. The smell of the chicken could indicate the poultry products might have been left at room temp. before or after packaging, or the store might have repackaged the old products and put a new packaged date on the label to cheat customers.

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