The dates you find on food labels can really be confusing. What many people believe, is that the date found on food is the date that they must throw the item in the trash, because by that point, it’s no longer safe to consume.
Fortunately, most of the time, this is not the case. The dates on food labels actually have nothing at all to do with the safety of food.
Here are the different kinds of dates and what they really mean:
Use By/Best By/Best Before
These are usually found on items such as mustard, peanut butter, and pasta sauce. Food that is shelf-stable.
This date tells you how long the item will remain at the best quality (while unopened). After this date has passed, the food is still safe to consume, but you may notice subtle changes in texture, flavour or colour.
So, as long as the item has been stored properly, you can still use it past this date. As far as how long past this date the food will last – well, that will vary. If it develops an off-smell, or looks generally unappetizing and much different than how it normally looks, toss it.
You will find most items with sell-by dates are things like meat and milk – perishables. This date tells the store how long they can keep an item out for sale. If the date passes, they are no longer able to sell the item.
You definitely don’t want to purchase a perishable item whos sell-by date has passed, but you don’t necessarily need to consume it before that date.
For example, milk will last 1 week after the sell-by date in the refrigerator, chicken breasts will last 1-2 days, and yogurt 7-10 days. Visit the Keep it or Toss it page to see how long your favourite foods will last.
You will likely only find these dates on baby items such as infant formula and certain baby foods.
This is the only time you definitely want to make sure to use the item up before the expiration date.
Guaranteed Fresh By
This date is often found on bakery items, such as breads and rolls. You can certainly still eat these items once the date has past, but they will not be as fresh as they were before the date.
Do you remember the last time you threw something away because the date on the item had past? How many times have you done this unnecessarily, losing food (and your money) in the process?
Stop throwing away perfectly edible food! As long as you understand the dates on items, and are storing your food and beverages properly, you can stop tossing things in the trash – which means savings for you!