What does the date on the package actually mean?

Prevent Food Waste / Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Best Before Date

According to the manufacturer the “Best Before Date” is the last date by which a products flavour and/or quality is best. Consumers trust those dates more than they should. Fact is that in Canada the food products which have a durable life of 90 days or lessrequires the specific “best before” date.  The manufacturer pretty much guesses when the product is at its peak quality. You would think that the dates are a rational objective system, but it is really more like the Wild West. However, food with a shelf life greater than 90 days (e.g., cereals, semi-dry cured or dry cured sausage, etc.) are not required to be labelled with a “best before” date and storage information or a packaging date and durable life information.

Therefore a best before date is not an indicator of food safety, neither before nor after the date. Many “use-by,” “sell-by” and “best-before” dates don’t have a thing to do with food safety. Instead, they’re indicators for shelving and inventory purposes used by retailers. More than 90% of consumers say they’ve impulsively tossed out what could be perfectly good eats because they believed the date labels were a measure of food safety.

Expiration Date

The Canadian government defines the Expiration date as the following:

”Expiration date” means the date after which the manufacturer does not recommend that the product be consumed, and up to which it maintains its microbiological and physical stability and nutrient content declared on the label.”

After the expiry date, the food may not have the same nutrient content declared on the label. Food should not be eaten if the expiration date has passed.

There are five types of products that are labelled with an expiration date:

  • Formulated liquid diets (a nutritionally complete diet for persons using oral or tube feeding methods)

  • Foods represented for use in a very low-energy diet (foods sold only by a pharmacist and only with a written order from a physician)

  • Meal replacements (a formulated food that, by itself, can replace one or more daily meals)

  • Nutritional supplements (a food sold or represented as a supplement to a diet that may be inadequate in energy and essential nutrients)

  • Human milk substitutes (infant formula)


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