Best Before What?

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I have seen people in the grocery aisles squinting over their glasses to make out the best before date on vinegar. I’m not sure I get it, vinegar being as off as a food can be.

I’ve also seen them messing up the shelf to find the best ‘best before’ date on a package. And then leaving the mess. We know grocers bring forward the older stock but it’s not a conspiracy. They’re not working against you and charging full price for half gone goods.

I’ve also worked in a gourmet food store and witnessed customers who look for ‘expired’ dates. They would tell us how negligent the store was, how safety wasn’t in our best interest. But their goal wasn’t to protect the public from an non-existent plague; they were after a discount. If offered, they would buy the offending product. I guess lower prices negates any possible health risk?

There is something very powerful about that date, stamped, as it is, in indelible ink.

Yet Nobody Really Knows What it Means

One thing for sure, it contributes to our food waste. We Canadians toss an estimated $31 billion of our purchased edibles annually, this according to the 2014 Value Chain Management Centre study (this doesn’t include hospitals, schools and prisons)*. Shame on us. Double shame.

How long the ‘best before’ date is is up to the producers (not grocers). There has to be something and the guidelines are set by our federal government, specifically the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (amazingly, their site is very comprehensible). Some producers shorten the dates on their products, not because their product is bad, but so you will think it is, throw it out and buy more.

What is a program to protect our food supply has turned into a Godzilla by overly conscious (or suspicious) consumers.

Here is my short version of what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says. Read it and extend the life of your pantry and pocket book. Then watch our planet benefit.

Best Before

Dates on shelf-stable foods (not perishables) are not indicators of food safety but rather quality. They are definitely safe to eat after the ‘best before’ date. Here’s another piece of information that may surprise you: dating products with a shelf life of longer than 90 days is optional (canned anything).

Expiration Date 

Used on infant formula and other formulated liquid diets like Boost. The nutritional quality of this food may be compromised and so useless. Do not eat after this date (except in times of famine?).

Production Codes 

These are there for the vendors so they can manage stock. The problem with these codes is that they are often mistaken for a “best before” date. How to distinguish? Well, the government says “best before” dates  have to appear a certain way (explained on their site).

*this article was updated in 2015