Is it still good? The shelf life of a ‘best before’ date on food

The common food dilemma of following ‘best before’ dates as ‘expiry’ dates likely contributes to 1.3 billion tons per year of waste. This represents more than 30 percent of the food produced and an estimated cost of $34 billion dollars in North America.

In most instances, best before dates have to do with food quality – freshness, texture, taste and colour – not safety. As long as the package is unopened, has been stored under proper conditions and for canned goods, the can is not bulging, food can be eaten past the ‘best before’ date.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) lists requirements for date labelling on pre-packaged food. ‘Best before’ dates are required on all food products that keep fresh for less than 90 days, such as milk, along with required storage conditions, like ‘keep refrigerated’. They are not required on food products with a shelf life more than 90 days such as canned tomatoes and dry pasta.

There are no government regulations indicating what the dates should be or how they should be determined. “The manufacturer determines the date on the package based on the worst-case scenario,” says Keith Warriner, professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph. Warriner asked one company how it addressed the undertaking. He was told a product would be left at room temperature and assessed daily. When they thought the quality was unacceptable, they set a best before date. Warriner adds that at times, the best before date is chosen to fit the needs of the retailer without any formal shelf-life studies.

As most best before dates are estimates, there are a few exceptions. For deli meats, hot dogs and soft cheeses, best before dates are based on the length of time it takes the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes to grow. Some jarred ready-to-eat foods have a shelf life of 42 days, depending on the extent of heat treatment, says Warriner. Low acid foods such as soups and sous vide-type products do not receive sterilization treatment and are in danger of developing Clostridium botulinum or botulism. Warriner advises adhering to the best before date when it comes to these products even though they may look and taste fine. Jarred products such as pickles and salsa are low botulism risk. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria and botulism spores can multiply and spread in the refrigerator.

The following are refrigerated (4 degrees C/40 degrees F) products in which the shelf life is based on food safety.

Low-acid vegetable or fruit juices (pH of 4.6 or greater): 3 weeks

Pasteurized jarred soups: 7 days

Non-dried deli meats: 5-7 days

Sous vide (“under vacuum”) red meat, poultry, fish: 10 days maximum

‘Expiry’ dates are under a different classification. They are required on only a few items such as meal replacements, nutritional supplements and infant formulas. These products should not be consumed after the expiration date because the nutrient content stated on the label may have degraded. They should be discarded.

Fresh food packaged at the store must have a ‘packaged on’ plus a ‘best before’ date. This applies to foods like vegetables, cut-up fruit, meats, bread, muffins and cakes baked on site.

Born in Canada. Ingredients that help define and shape Canada.

In celebration of Canada, discover the ingredients that are grown and harvested in Canada and shared with the rest of the world.

Red Fife Wheat

This grain variety was brought to Canada from Scotland by David Fife, who farmed in the 1840s north of Belleville, Ontario. By the 1870s, Red Fife became the dominant wheat variety used by millers and bakers throughout Canada, creating the taste of bread in the decades after Confederation. Its adaptability to the unique climate of Western Canada meant that Red Fife wheat would play a key role to settlement in the prairies.

Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) Potatoes

Russet, white, red and yellow potatoes are famous across Canada and around the world. Prince Edward Islanders have been growing potatoes since the late 1700s. They are superior because of the province’s ideal growing conditions, which includes a red, sandy soil that is rich in iron. The tiny province produces over one million tonnes of the tuber per year.

Maple Syrup

Is there anything more Canadian than maple syrup? The skill of collecting and processing the sweet sap of the sugar maple was known and valued by the Indigenous peoples long before the arrival of European settlers. “Sugaring time,” is that brief confluence between winter and spring when the snow begins to melt and sap begins to flow in the maple groves. As one of Canada’s iconic food identities, the nation produces 75 percent of the world’s output, of which, 91 percent is produced in Quebec. Other maple syrup producing regions include the provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Today, Canadian maple syrup is exported to approximately 50 countries, including the United States which is the primary importer.

Wild Blueberries

Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of wild blueberries, also known as “lowbush blueberries,” mostly grown in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec. The total harvest weighs-in at 100 million kilograms per year.

Lentils

Saskatchewan is the world’s largest exporter of green lentils and yields 2 million tonnes annually – about 95 percent of Canada’s lentil production. India, Turkey and Bangladesh purchase half of Canada’s harvest. This nutritious little legume grows in pods and is one of the oldest cultivated crops on earth. 

Mustard Seeds

Canada is the largest exporter and the second largest producer of mustard seed in the world accounting for 80 percent of total global exports of the seed. And Cabri, Saskatchewan is responsible for a significant portion of those exports. Canada’s climate provides ideal growing conditions for the spicy crop. Mustard’s versatility is a good friend to the farmer, given that it interrupts pest cycles and when grown as a crop cover, and replenishes the nutrients in depleted soil. On average, mustard plants produce up to 450 kilograms of seeds per acre and all parts of the mustard plant are edible, including the leaves, seeds and flowers.

Wild Rice

Minomiin – or wild rice, as it is more commonly known –was once the main food source for many First Nations. Much of today’s wild rice harvest is still done by Indigenous peoples from heirloom strands. Wild rice is not a rice at all, but the seed of four species of aquatic grasses forming genus Zizania. It grows in the shallow lakes and rivers of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. Canadian harvests focus on rice grown organically in natural bodies of water. Wild rice is a challenging crop to grow and is not suitable for large-scale production, making it the most expensive type of rice.

Oh Canada. Gratitude for your deep-rooted ingredients that present a diverse portrait of your edible landscape.

Unpacking Harmful Chemicals in Fast Food Wrappers

Many fast food wrappers and containers have a grease-repellent chemical coating, which according to a report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, may contain chemicals that can leach into your food. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, these fluorinated substances, a class of chemicals called PFASs (polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl), have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, decreased fertility, hypertension in pregnancy, low birth weight, thyroid disease, obesity, high cholesterol and immune suppression in human and animal studies.

PFASs are used in products that give it stain-resistant, water-repellant and non-stick properties. Since they are made with bonded compounds of carbon and fluorine, they resist breaking down, which suggests they can accumulate in water, soil, sediment – and the human body.

Researchers from the Silent Spring Institute; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Notre Dame; and other institutions measured the amount of fluorine in more than 400 fast food packaging samples across the United States. The study found one-third of them contained some form of the chemical fluorine.

 

The good news is that most fast-food packaging did not contain any fluorine, said Laurel Shaider, lead study author with the Silent Spring Institute. This indicates that some manufacturers might be using fluorine compound-free chemicals to get the water- and grease-resistant effects they want without using compounds that carry a health risk, she says.

Cutting down on fast food and eating more fresh foods can drastically lower your exposure. Michael Hansen, Consumer Reports’ senior scientist, advises consumers limit the amount of contact time food is left in its packaging. If you can, once you arrive home or at work, take the food out of wrappers and use your own plates and bowls instead.

You may also want to consider the type of packaging your food is delivered in. Overall, researchers found that 46 per cent of paper wrappers tested positive for PFASs. This included 56 per cent of dessert and bread wrappers, 38 per cent of sandwich and burger wrappers, and 20 per cent of paperboard (like the cardboard boxes that French fries and pizza tend to come in). Paper cups were the only packages to test negative for fluorinated chemicals.

As for leftovers: “You shouldn’t be storing food or reheating it in those packaging materials,” Hansen says.