Is Food Safe After the ‘Best Before Date’ ?

Got something in your refrigerator you are not quite sure when you opened or if you can still eat it? With current food prices consuming so much of your budget you’re hesitant to throw away something you spent good money on.

Then you see it’s past the “best before” date so there is no way that thing is passing your lips, right? This date tells you when it is no longer safe to consume, doesn’t it?

As a matter of fact, it doesn’t.

“Best before” is a mandatory code that the Food and Drugs Act refers to as a “durable life date”. It tracks the product from the day of packaging to when the food, left unopened, should maintain optimum nutritional value and flavour. There are two other codes: “packaged on” and “expiry date”. The manufacturer usually sets the date though some products, such as meat, may be determined by the retailer

Best before” dates are required on packaged food with a shelf life of up to ninety days.

Packaged-on” dates are required on meat packaging to help the buyer decide how long the meat can go before consuming.

Expiry dates” are mandatory for fortified foods like nutritional supplement drinks or baby formula. Expiry dates also appear on medications because drugs will lose effectiveness over time and some can even become a health risk.

Best before date on bottleSelling products past the best before date is not illegal provided it is still fit for consumption and not presented in a misleading manner. Tampering with best before dates is not legal.

Selling a product  after its expiry date is illegal because nutrients degrade over time. The expiry date provides a guarantee that these nutrients (vitamins or proteins for example) will remain stable.

Sometimes manufacturers print best before dates on foods with a shelf life over ninety days. Non-dairy toppings, snack foods and soft drinks are often packaged with best before dates though there is no legal requirement to do so. Fresh fruit and vegetables do not require best before information.

Mayonnaise is good for 3-4 months past the best before date

So how much of a risk are you willing to take? How about that jar of mayonnaise in your fridge with a best before date sometime last week?

Provided it was kept refrigerated your mayo should actually be perfectly good for 3 or 4 months past the best before date. Hellmann’s, the mayonnaise manufacturer backs this up and even says it is safe so long as it has been stored covered at temperatures under 20 C/68 F —that’s pretty much room temperature. Keep in mind that if you have left your mayo out for hours in hot and humid conditions you are asking for trouble, even if it is within the best before date.

This might be a good time to state the obvious. Whenever any food has a look or taste or smell that seems off,  throw it out.

Most cheese will last in your fridge for over six months after you purchased it and if you keep it properly it should be good for three or four weeks. As for those individually-wrapped plastic orange slices… well, they may out-live you.

If you have a small amount of mold on your cheddar just cut away an inch around the mold and its fit for consumption. Cheese can be kept in the freezer for up to twelve months though some thawed cheeses can have degraded consistency or flavour.

Butter and cream can also be frozen then thawed in your refrigerator when you are ready to use them.

Raw pork or beef will be fine in your refrigerator for three to five days but chicken must be used within a day or two. Frozen pork can be used within four to six months. Beef lasts frozen for six to 12 months and chicken is good for up to a year. If your freezer is really cold (around -18 C/-0.4 F), meat can last indefinitely.

Ground meat must be cooked the day you buy it. If you can’t manage to use it the same day put it in the freezer where it will last for up to 4 months.