National Post (Latest Edition)
FOOD GONE BAD
THE BEST-BEFORE DATE IS MORE ABOUT QUALITY THAN IT IS SAFETY
The other day, I sniffed a longopened jar of pasta sauce, inspected it for mould and decided it was OK to eat. I didn’t even check the best-before date — I was trusting my senses. Yet, just minutes earlier I had poured an overdue carton of milk down the drain without hesitation.
Does that sound a bit inconsistent?
The thing is, there are some things that I have always been careful about consuming after the best-before date — meats and milk are definite no-no’s. Pasta sauce and salsa? No problem.
Turns out I’ve been wrong all along. In fact, a best-before date is actually about the quality of the food, not whether or not it should be eaten.
“Best-before dates are not indicators of food safety, neither before nor after the date,” according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Perhaps I, like you, have misunderstood the definition of the best-before date. It is not an expiration date — which tells you the last date the food can be consumed. Only five types of foods in Canada actually require expiration dates, and they have strict nutrition specifications: formulated liquid diets, pharmacist-sold foods for low-energy diets, meal replacements, nutritional supplements and infant formula. These foods “should not be bought, sold or eaten if the expiration date has passed,” the CFIA states on its website.
Best-before dates are not indicators of food safety, neither before nor after the date
As for a best-before date, only foods that have shelf lives of 90 days or less (unopened and properly stored) are required to have one — but it’s up to the individual food manufacturer to decide
what that date should be. The manufacturer may base it on how long the food will stay fresh, remain tasty or keep its nutritional value — not necessarily how long it’s safe to eat. Many manufacturers also decide to provide best-before dates for foods that last longer than 90 days.
“You can buy and eat foods after the best-before date has passed,” according to the CFIA. “However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed. Some of its nutritional value may be lost.”
A COLLECTIVE PROBLEM
While dumping the odd cup of milk may seem harmless, it adds up. According to a 2019 report by Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International, 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada doesn’t end up in bellies. On average, each household spends $1,766 per year on food it throws away. This waste
winds up in landfills, creating greenhouse gases — the resources used to produce the food are wasted, too.
Love Food Hate Waste Canada, an advocacy group that focuses on reducing food waste, found that during the pandemic, people are cooking at home more, doing fewer trips to the grocery store and buying more per trip. They then throw out a food primarily because they left it too long and it’s unappetizing and may not be safe to eat, or best-before date has passed.
Similar findings were reported by researchers from Dalhousie University: As of late August 2020, Canadians were wasting 13.5 per cent more food at home since the start of the pandemic
HAS IT GONE BAD?
Look for indications a food may have gone bad: a bulging package, a bad smell, mould, or a strange colour are all clues that perhaps your food is not up to snuff. Also keep in mind that a food may not show signs
it has gone off, so you may need to use a combination of your senses and instinct to decide whether it’s safe to consume. And if you are in doubt, Health Canada says, “Throw it out.”
WHEN AFTER THE BEST-BEFORE IS OK
Here are some rough recommendations from Second Harvest on how long a food might be safe to eat past its best-before date, if unopened and stored correctly:
Safe until you notice visible rot, mould or a biodegrading smell: Fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, buns, and bagels.
There’s time, but not too much: Cakes, cookies, pies, chocolate and pudding is good for 72 hours past the best-before date, cooked luncheon meats last for one week after and it’s two weeks for dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese and sour cream.
Longer term: Juice and energy drinks last three to six months, frozen ground meat should be safe at around two to three months after the best-before date while frozen fish comes in at two to six months, and frozen poultry pieces lands at six months.
Up to one year. Canned goods are generally OK to consume within one year, as are condiments like ketchup, mustard, relish, jam, mayonnaise, salad dressing, vinegar and soy sauce. Same with frozen dinners and microwaveable meals, snacks like cookies, chips, popcorn and granola bars, and cereal, crackers, flour, oats, pasta and rice. Larger cuts of frozen meat, including beef, lamb, pork and whole poultry, also fit in into this category; unlike their chopped or ground versions, they have less surface areas and so less chance of growing bacteria, plus more chance that cooking will kill that bacteria.
Health Canada and Food Banks Canada offer good advice on food safety, and again, if you are still unsure, throw it out.
REDUCE BATHROOM WASTE, TOO
Items frequently found in bathrooms can also go bad. Sunscreens, for example, have expiration dates and may become less effective after that date. The Canadian Dermatology Association notes, “Sunscreens contain chemicals that eventually break down, compromising the effectiveness of the product, so you should not use a sunscreen after its expiry date,” the CDA write on its website. A hot car or beach bag can also speed up deterioration. So it’s up to you if you want to risk that sunburn.
In Canada, cosmetics don’t require expiration dates. Health Canada recommends you keep them dry and cool, wash your hands before using and don’t use them if you detect changes in their appearance, smell or feel.