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Week Four – “Best-Before Vs. Expiry Dates”

“It takes so many resources to grow, transport, store, cook and get food to our plates. When we throw food out, we throw those resources out with it”

Dana Gunders

Welcome to Week Four of the Just Eat It, Caledon! Food Waste Challenge where we uncover the mystery behind best-before and expiry dates on food.

How many of us have stood in a grocery aisle, searching a container for its best-before date, without really understanding what that date means? Does a food product magically change on its best-before date? Is it safe to eat? Will its nutrition content be affected?

According to Second Harvest, there is certainly a lot of confusion about best-before and expiry dates, which is a significant cause of food waste in Canada. Below, the food rescue organization Second Harvest busts three common MYTHS about best-before dates.

MYTH #1: “Best-before dates and expiry dates are the same thing”

BUSTED: This is the biggest – and most persistent – myth!

In Canada, there is a legal distinction between “best-before” and “expiry.” Only five types of food in Canada have true expiry dates, that is, you should not eat them once the date has passed. These five foods are: baby formula; meal replacement or supplement bars; meal supplement drinks, like Boost or Ensure; and formulated liquid diets and foods for use in a very low-energy diet – both of which require a prescription.

Best-before dates are about quality, not safety. The “best-before” date does not guarantee product safety, but it does give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened food you are buying.

MYTH #2: “I can’t eat eggs or drink milk after the date on the carton”

BUSTED: Eggs and milk are safe to consume up to 2 weeks after their best-before date.

You can even freeze milk and get up to 3 extra months of use past its best-before date. According to Health Canada’s food safety page you can eat and even buy after the “best before” date has passed, though it may have lost some of its freshness, flavour and nutritional value, and its texture may have changed.

MYTH #3: “When in doubt, throw it out!”

BUSTED: This is tricky since this guidance has some usefulness. But should the garbage be your default for yogurt with yesterday’s best-before date? Not so much.

You can trust your senses: don’t eat foods that smell bad; if you see rotting or mold on produce, put it in the compost; if a can is bulging or leaking, discard it.

Source: Second Harvest – www.secondharvest.ca

Week Four – Challenge Activity:

This week we are challenging you to learn more about best-before dates to ensure good food isn’t being tossed into the green bin. A Guide to Food Date Labels in Canada, a free eCourse offered by Second Harvest (linked in the Resource List) will help you understand when food is safe, or not safe to eat; and, know the difference between the various date labels. In addition, your Food Safety & Storage” Handout highlights how far beyond best-before dates different food items can be consumed – fresh or frozen. Keep it handy for when you need help deciding whether or not to toss, consume or freeze certain items.

Lastly, have a look on the flip side of yourFood Safety & Storage” Handout. Knowing where to store food in the fridge or freezer matters, and can help prolong freshness and shelf life.

Community Champion:

Nancy Loteki – Zero Waste Living

Originally founded as Zero Waste Caledon, Zero Waste Living aims to raise awareness about the impact of waste on the environment and climate change. Our goal is to help inspire others to reduce their household waste, and move toward simpler and more sustainable lifestyles.

Zero Waste Food Shopping and Storage Tips

Food Ambassadors:

Debbe Crandall & Sarah Dolamore – Mount Wolfe Farm

A CSA farm in Caledon, Ontario. MWF provides members with year-round food, access to workshops and a sense of community. MWF believes that by connecting people to the land, we can connect to each other. The result: a stronger community that reaps greater economic, environmental and social benefits.

A Chat with Debbe Crandall, Co-Owner
A Chat with Sarah Dolamore, Farm Manager

Week 4 – Reflections:

Link to Reflection Questions

Food for Thought - Community Feed

    • Hi Solveig, I like the idea of not using a best-before date for foods that we should easily be able to judge for ourselves whether or not it is edible (by taste and smell) 🙂

      Reply
  1. I went to use my red wine vinegar and was concerned because it looked cloudy and had sediment floating in it. I checked online and apparently it’s still perfectly good to use. Cloudiness over time is normal and should not be a problem as long as the vinegar has been stored in a cool dark place. I know my apple cider vinegar always looks cloudy and has sediment, but that’s because it’s unfiltered.

    Just thought I would share in case others had doubts about theirs. Of course, if it smells off I wouldn’t chance it!

    Reply
  2. Just picked up Freshii for lunch and guess what they have these strong paper containers, once washed out can be used to start growing your seedlings for planting and because they are bio-degradeable you just pop them in the soil in the spring. Just thin out the plants and put the whole container directly in the soil.

    Reply
  3. We wanted to share a Youtube video we discovered. It takes about ten minutes to watch (or listen to while you’re cooking!) and is full of fantastic advice on how to store and prolong the freshness of many different kinds of produce.

    Reply
  4. Nancy’s Zero Waste Workshop (in the resources) and her new website – Nancy’s already got a great list of local stores that will take your reusable containers – awesome info. Worth watching and taking notes. Surprising at what you already know or are doing or more tips on how to improve what you are already doing. Also do the eCourse. I got my certificate.

    Reply
  5. When shopping I will look at the items further in the back as they put the nearly expired food items in front. Check dates before purchasing. I will buy nearly expired yogurt to be used immediately (save money) and then later dated yogurt for later use. This goes for all foods, both fresh and canned (which I don’t buy much).

    Reply
    • Great tip, Niki! In the days when I was less enlightened about food waste, I would do the opposite – search for the most distant best before date! Now I do what you do and often “rescue” items close to best before date. Like you said, they are usually marked down and are perfectly good if used soon.

      Reply
  6. First place I go to is the reduced produce. Depending on the store, 99% of the produce is still fresh and can be used immediately or a few days later. Saves a lot of money and produce is still fresh. I tend to cook these items first or blanch and freeze for later use. Bananas especially, we tend to eat most of them as they are still good and the remainder that are overripe I either make banana bread/cake immediately or mash and freeze in 1or 2 cup containers. This is where yogurt containers come in handy.

    Overripe tomatoes, eat what I can immediately, the remainder I will oven roast with a sprinkling of olive oil, then either freeze or make awesome tomato soup or sauce.

    Reply
  7. If you want to better understand the difference between labels like “best-before” and “expiry” – don’t forget to check out the free eCourse offered by Second Harvest, A Guide to Food Date Labels in Canada. You can find a link under “Resources”.

    Reply
  8. I tend to let my eyes and nose decide if something is edible. Sometimes I go online to get “their” opinion. Most recently it was the molasses in my cupboard that said “Best before July 2016.” It looked OK . . .smelled OK . . . tasted OK. So I went online and found a site that said it was good for a year past the “best before” date; another said “10 years”; and one said, “As long as it doesn’t look like a science project (i.e. mold) it’s OK. So I used it. Nobody got sick. I have now transferred it to the fridge, realizing I’ll have to let it warm up before trying to pour it. It may sit there for another5 years . . .

    Reply

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