Most of us have a lot of responsibilities and are often too tired to go shopping for food. It seems like a tedious task especially when you don’t have a list of items you need ready to go. We walk around the store and buy what happens to catch our eyes, picking whatever is at the front of the shelf. So, it might shock you when I say that it is not illegal to sell a product whose best before date has passed. I don’t say this to scare you, in fact, I hope it does the opposite because it has to mean that it is safe to eat right?
Expiry Date vs. Best Before Date
The first thing to note is that there is a difference between an expiry date and a best before date and knowing what it is might change how you approach buying food and throwing food out.
Packaged foods that have expiry dates are ones that have nutritional specifications like infant formula, meal replacement or nutritional supplements. Because of how strict the composition has to be, only few products are required to have expiry dates by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. These foods must be consumed before the date or thrown out.
Best before dates, on the other hand, are the manufacturer’s suggestion for peak quality. It is not an indicator of food safety, before or after the date. So, when the date has passed, some of its freshness and flavor might be lost but could still be perfectly edible, IF it stored in appropriate conditions.
Foods without Best Before Dates
Food that has an anticipated shelf-life of greater than 90 days are not required to have a best before date like canned food or dry foods like pasta. So, if you do not see any date at all on the packaging, that could be why. I used to think it had to mean something nefarious was going on but that was a long time ago, I have grown considerably since last week.
Photo by ProjectManhattan on Wikimedia
No Smell ≠ No Bacteria
All food that has had a change in smell is probably unsafe to eat but it doesn’t mean if it doesn’t smell bad, that it is safe to eat. A lot of moms love to use the smell test to check for a dirty diaper but contrary to popular opinion, you cannot tell if your food is safe to eat by the smell or taste alone. You cannot see, smell or taste the bacteria that causes food poisoning. If there is any doubt in your mind that the food is edible, compost it or throw it out. And yes, I do recognize the error of my ways in talking about dirty diapers and food in the same sentence, sorry!
Optimal Fridge + Freezer Temperature
So, what does this all mean? It means that your food should always be handled with care and refrigerated or frozen as soon as able to remain edible for as long as possible. Health Canada says the optimal temperature for your fridge is 4°C (40°F) and for your freezer, -18°C (0°F). If you want to test your fridge’s thermostat, you can place a glass of water in the fridge for 24 hours. Then take the temperature of the liquid. Considering how ancient my fridge is, I try to check it every once in a while, as your food becomes susceptible to bacteria at 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F).
Health Canada Guides
Health Canada has a handy food storage guide that tells you how long you can expect your food to reasonable last if properly stored. I always gobble them up so fast, that I didn't know eggs could last up to 4 weeks! Even unopened milk can be stored for up to 6 weeks in the freezer. This handy guide just might stop your food from turning sad.
Fall is here, we prepare to say goodbye to the sun as we log our grill back into storage. That doesn't mean we won't still be cooking up a storm though so make sure to check out Health Canada's food safety guide that will teach you the best handling and prepping practices when thawing, chilling, cleaning and cooking.