Is it safe to eat food past its best-before date?

best before date

Despite evidence suggesting that grocery price inflation may finally in Canada, a new report is showing that as some food costs remain high, many are increasingly open to consuming “risky foods” despite potential health risks.

The report, released today by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab determined that 58 per cent of respondents indicated that higher prices did make them more inclined to consume food close to or past its best-before date. The same report showed that roughly 37 per cent indicated that their consumption habits have remained the same.

Parsing the number of those who said they would potentially eat such foods, 23.1 per cent stated that they always do so, while 38.6 per cent indicated that they often eat food past its best-before date or are overripe, and a further 30.8 per cent said they were doing the same sometimes. A mere 7.5 per cent stated that they rarely consume food under these conditions.

“So you can tell that food inflation really has push(ed) Canadians to think differently about food,” the lab’s director, Sylvain Charlebois, told Global News. “Not only that, it has pushed Canadians to manage risks, food safety risk at home very differently as well. Food is now an asset and you don’t want to throw it out, if you can utilize it in a way.”

University of Guelph food scientist Keith Warriner said that unlike expiration dates, best-before dates are more or less a company’s “best guess” as to when the quality of a consumable begins to deteriorate.

He further stated that there are, in fact, some foods that can be eaten safely past that date including dry and canned foods, chips, cured meats and acidic dressings.

Foods such as bread, meat, milk and cheese are more accurately categorized as being able to be eaten however with caution, Warriner adds. He did indicate that foods such as seafood, deli meats and even leftovers after five days ought to be avoided, as there are concerns of bacteria and other potential dangers that could grow on them over time.

A common sense approach to determining whether foods can be eaten past their date is by using one’s own senses. Plainly put, if it smells or looks bad it may be best to toss it.

“When we get to the point of it turning to the spoilage, rancid odours, visual, that’s telling you something and it literally isn’t worth taking the risk,” Warriner said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) made a similar distinction in response to the question of whether it is safe to eat food past the best-before day.

“There’s a common misconception that food is ‘good’ before and ‘bad’ after its best before date, but these dates are not an indicator of food safety before or after they pass,” a CFIA spokesperson said in an email Wednesday.

“Consumers are encouraged to always use their judgement when deciding if a food can be eaten.”

Roughly 47 per cent of Canadians surveyed were found to have turned to using different food storage or preparation methods in a bid to extend the shelf life of their food, such as freezing bread or keeping produce in humidity-controlled drawers.

Charlebois stated that many items can be frozen, however still recommended caution.

“You can think it’s a good thing because you’re we’re probably wasting less food,” he said. “But at the same time, you don’t want people to take on too much risk and compromise their health.”

Warriner further cautioned individuals who rely on freezing as a means of extending the safe consumption timeline of foods explaining that even with frozen food, it can still spoil in some cases if left too long.

Qualifying the data reported, Charlebois noted that the survey is based on self-reporting, citing that the study found 20 per cent of Canadians claimed to have become ill after consuming food close to or past its best before date.

As Canadians mull various ways to save, Warriner advised that there is more that can be done aside from just eating food near or after its best before date while also limiting food waste.

“When you go shopping, don’t try to get these spontaneous purchases,” he said. “Buy what you need.”

— with files from


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