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June 4, 2020
Dates? What do they mean?
Expiry dates are dates where the food safety is no longer guaranteed or where there is a risk of severe quality deterioration after the date. Expiry dates are usually short and are for refrigerated foods that can not be safely stored at room temperature or they may become dangerous. For foods that have an expiry date, it is important not to go past that date. This date will be marked on the package if you buy the food in a grocery store. If you buy the food at a food service location or from a caterer, there may not be a date and you can use the dates below to guide you.
Best Before Dates are used to provide time frames after which the quality or the nutritional content of the food decreases. Best before dates are usually longer and can be on refrigerated or shelf stable foods.
In Canada, all foods that are sold in a retail packaging, and that have a date less than 90 days must have the date on the food. Foods that have dates longer than 90 days do not have to have the date on the package, however, most manufacturers now put dates on their packages. If your food has a date on from the manufacturer, you can use this date as a guide for how long to keep the food and use it.
Both expiry and best before dates are valid only for food that have not been opened. Once the food has been opened, the dates are generally shorter and are also dependent on good storage practises. The table below lists storage dates for common foods once they are open.
Long storage dates
Some foods have very long best before dates. For example, nuts, crackers, canned goods. For some foods, like canned goods, it is important to respect the date. These foods can be dangerous and cause food poisoning. But for dry goods like nuts, crackers, grains, seeds and cereals, as examples, there will not usually be a food safety risk if you use these foods after the date. It is more a question of quality. These foods may go rancid, or the texture and taste may change so that they are no longer palatable.
There are foods like jams, jellies, condiments and salad dressing that have long dates. These foods are generally safe after the date. It is more a question of whether there are off-odours, off-flavours or mold. Use your senses and your judgement in deciding whether to use these kinds of foods after their date.
The date on any food only apply as long as the food is properly wrapped and stored.
Medium storage dates
Some foods, like dairy products and eggs have medium storage dates. Because dairy products are made from pasteurized milk, there is usually not a food safety risk to consuming milk, yogurt or cheese after their date has passed. It is more a question of quality. With milk, it will go sour and you will notice the bad smell or the lumps. With yogurt and cheese they may be an unpleasant odour and/or mold growth. Definately do not use dairy products after the date if there are visible signs that they are no longer good. However, if it is only a day to a few days after the date and there are no signs of spoilage, it is generally okay to use these foods. Use your sense to make sure there are no signs of spoilage.
What temperature should your fridge be at?
The government of Canada recommends that your fridge be kept between 0 and 4 C. In the US, the temperature range is 32 to 40 F. Do you know your fridge temperature? You can get a thermometer and keep it in your fridge to make sure. This way you can have your fridge as warm as it safe so that your produce doesn't freeze, and you can find out the warmest part of your fridge so that you organize your with the most temperature-sensitive items in the coldest areas. This Rubbermaid thermometer from Amazon is sturdy, reliable and not expensive. I highly recommend this model.
2 Ground meat, Raw sausage
3 Egg substitute-open, Milk-open, Yogurt-open, Soups, Chicken-whole & pieces
4 Beef, veal, pork, lamb, Fish-lean & fatty, Ham, Deli meat, Cooked meals, Cooked poultry & fish
5 Lunch meat-open, Beans, Hummus-open
7 Soft cheese, lettuce, Bacon, Hot dogs-open, Sausage-cooked, Harc-boiled eggs
10 Egg substitute-not open
14 Vegetables, Lunch meat-not open, Hot Dogs-not open
21 Butter-open, Semi-soft cheese, Eggs, Spinach
56 Butter-closed salted/unsalted
152 Cheese-firm & processedutely
303 Hard cheese
Recommendations from the Government of Canada
Fresh foods that need to be refrigerated to maintain their safety and quality are foods where you should generally respect the dates above. Any kind of meat, fish or shellfish food, absolutely repsect the dates. These foods can become unsafe very fast, especially if they are raw.
1.Explanation of the difference between expiry dates and best before dates with examples of foods with each kind of date.
2. Explanation that best before dates are more of a quality indicator. Food isn’t necessarily unsafe after the date, but quality deteriorates.
3. Recommended storage times for fresh food.