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Could Canada scrap best before dates? 6 foods you can eat past their best before date

"Eliminating best-before dates would prevent safe, consumable food from being thrown out."

Canned foods. Close up of a woman grocery shopping in supermarket. Holding a tin can and reading the nutrition label at the back
There are plenty of foods you can eat after their "best before" dates — including canned foods.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Canadian shoppers could see a change to best before dates at grocery stores, in an effort to reduce food waste.

Removing best before dates is just one of the recommendations presented by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, with the hope of affecting rising food costs across the country.

Last month, the Grocery Affordability: Examining Rising Food Costs in Canada report was presented to the House. The report cited record-level acceleration of food prices through the Consumer Price Index, as well as record profits from grocery retailers over the past few years.

Lori Nikkel, CEO of Canada’s largest food rescue organization Second Harvest, wrote in the report that best-before dates on packages are "wildly misunderstood."

"They are not expiry dates. They refer to a product’s peak freshness," she said. "While Canadians struggle to put food on the table, they are also convinced that best-before dates are about safety and will throw away perfectly good food to protect themselves and their families."

"Eliminating best-before dates would prevent safe, consumable food from being thrown out and save Canadians money on their grocery bills," she continued.

Even if Canada continues to keep best before dates, consumers can still make their own calls when it comes to the lifespan of food items. Here's everything to know about best before dates, plus how to tell when food has actually gone off.

‘Best before’ dates: What are they and how accurate are they?

A "best before" date is a label found on packaged foods that indicates the date through which the product is expected to retain its optimal quality and taste, as determined by the manufacturer. It is not an indicator of safety, but rather a guide for consumers to know when the food is at its best.

Foods with a higher risk of causing food poisoning, such as meat, dairy and ready-to-eat meals, should be consumed before their use-by date. You should also rely on your senses and check the food's appearance, smell and taste to determine if it's safe to eat.

The following are some foods that are safe to eat past their best before date.

Parmesan cheese on a wood cutting block
You can consume Parmesan cheese for months after its best-before date.

Hard cheese

Hard cheese is usually safe to eat for months after its best before date. The aging process of hard cheese, such as cheddar or Parmesan, actually improves the flavour and texture. The cheese becomes more flavourful and often sharper in taste. However, it's important to store it properly to ensure it doesn't spoil. You should wrap hard cheese tightly in plastic wrap or wax paper to prevent any air from getting to it and causing mold. Then you should store it in a cool, dry place, such as a refrigerator or cellar.

To check if hard cheese is safe to eat, look for signs of spoilage, such as mold, a change in texture or an off-putting smell. If the cheese has any of these signs, don't eat it. If the cheese has been left out of the refrigerator for an extended time, it's best to discard it.

Butter

Butter is safe to eat past its best before date as long as it has been stored properly and doesn't show any signs of spoilage. Butter can last up to a year, but it will eventually go bad. Keep your butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator to prevent it from absorbing any odours or flavours from other foods. If you have a lot of butter, you can also store it in the freezer, but be sure to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn.

When determining if butter is safe to eat, look for any signs of spoilage, such as mold, an off smell or a change in texture or colour. Don't eat it if you notice any.

bread on cutting board
Signs that you shouldn't eat bread include mold, a sour smell or a slimy texture.

Bread

Bread is another food you can feel safe eating after its best before date. Bread will go stale, but as long as it's not moldy, it's safe to eat. If your bread has gone stale, but you don't want to toss it, try toasting it or using it to make breadcrumbs. Homemade bread goes bad faster than fresh bread because it doesn't have any preservatives. You can keep your bread fresh longer by storing it in the refrigerator.

Signs that you shouldn't eat bread include mold, a sour smell or a slimy texture. If you notice any of these signs, it's best to discard the bread, as it's no longer safe to eat.

Canned foods

Canned foods are considered safe to eat after the best before date as long as the can is intact and the food inside looks and smells normal. Cans are designed to keep out air and light — two factors responsible for food spoiling. To ensure that your canned food stays safe, it's important to store it properly. Keep canned foods in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight or heat sources. Avoid storing them in damp or humid areas, as this can cause the cans to rust.

When you're ready to use the canned food, inspect the can for any signs of damage, such as dents, rust or swelling. If you notice any of these, it's best to discard the can and the food inside. Also, if the can feels light or if there is any leaking, it's best to discard the food. Once you open the can, if the food inside looks or smells abnormal, don't eat it. Trust your instincts — if it doesn't look or smell right, it's probably not safe to eat.

Photo taken in Preston, United Kingdom
Don't throw out your Cheerios yet! Most dry cereal is good for up to a year past its best before date.

Dry cereal

Cereal doesn't go bad in the same way that perishable items like meat or dairy products do because it is processed food designed to have a long shelf life. The cereal grains are typically dried and mixed with other ingredients like sugar, salt and preservatives. These ingredients help to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and other microorganisms that can cause food to spoil. Generally, cereal is good for up to a year past its best before date.

To store cereal, it's best to keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. This will help prevent moisture and pests from getting to the cereal and affecting its freshness. As for signs that cereal has gone bad, you can usually tell by looking for any signs of moisture, pests or an off odour. Additionally, if the cereal has changed colour or texture, it's probably best to throw it away.

Hard candy

If you have a sweet tooth, you'll be happy to know that the leftover Halloween candy you found under the sofa is probably still good. Candy has a long shelf life because it contains preservatives and is often packaged in a way that helps prevent contamination. The sugar in candy also acts as a natural preservative, slowing down the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast.

Keep candy in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. If the candy is in a sealed package, you can also store it in the refrigerator or freezer to prolong its shelf life. If you notice any signs of spoilage, such as discolouration, an off smell or taste or mold, it's best to throw it away.

Getting the most out of your grocery budget

With the high price of food, it's understandable if you want to stretch your grocery budget. While many foods are good past their best before dates, it's important to use your senses, such as sight, smell and taste, to determine if a food is safe to eat. Proper storage and handling of food can help to prolong its shelf life, but always follow food safety guidelines to avoid getting sick.

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