3 foods you can eat after the best before date, but might not want to

Prepackaged food with a shelf life of 90 days or less is required to have a best before date — but what does that mean and when can you (almost) ignore it?

Packaged food with a shelf life of up to 90 days must have a best before date — but what does it really mean?

Italian food importer Valoroso Foods in Kelowna, B.C., is doing a full inventory after allegations were made that staff were changing best before dates on food. (Valoroso Foods)

Italian food importer Valoroso Foods in Kelowna, B.C., has apologized to customers and is doing a full inventory, after allegations employees were changing the best before dates on old food products to make them appear fresh.

But food technologist Gary Sandberg, who heads the food technology program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, says that while some items may not taste as fresh after the best before date, they can still be safe to eat.

"The biggest issue is that if you're paying full price for something that has an inferior quality, that's where the challenge comes in," said Sandberg, who also oversees food safety and processing at farmers markets for the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Any prepackaged food with a shelf life of 90 days or less is required by law to have a best before date stamped on the package, but many of those foods can still safely be consumed after that date.

The best before date indicates freshness and is different from an expiry date.

Expiry dates are required on foods like baby formula and nutritional supplements and indicate the date after which the food will not live up to the nutritional promises on the label. 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says food with an expiry date shouldn't be consumed after that date, but Sandburg said most food products are still safe to eat after the best before date — as long as they haven't been opened and exposed to outside contamination.

"A lot of those products, if they're still in their package it's going to be quality changes that they're going to suffer from more than any food safety risk," said Sandberg.

Here are three foods Sandberg said can be eaten after the best before date — and the reasons you may want to toss them out anyway.

1. Ketchups and salsas

Ketchup may become more acidic and taste more sour after its best before date. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

If you find a bottle of ketchup or tub of salsa at the back of your fridge or cupboards, they are still edible past the best before date.

But foods like ketchup and salsa will tend to get more acidic, Sandberg said, and will taste more sour or bitter after the best before date has passed.

2. Dry pasta

Pastas will get dry and brittle once the product is past its prime. (Canadian Press)

Pasta can still safely be eaten past the best before date, as long as the box stays dry, but Sandberg said the older it gets the less you'll want to eat it.

"As long as there's no gain in moisture, then they're going to have a tendency to just dry out more and then, in the case of pasta, it's just going to fall apart when you cook it," he said.

3. Cheese

The natural bacteria in cheese will cause it to ripen in its package. (Dairygoodness.ca)

If cheese stays in its package and doesn't get contaminated by outside moulds, it will develop stronger flavours.

"If it's in the package and the mould starts to grow, chances are that's related to the moulds and the ripening," said Sandberg.

"But once you open a package — just the environment around you — the product becomes contaminated and moulds, for example, can look very similar, even if they're a totally different species, and that's where the risk starts to come in." 

To hear the full interview with Gary Sandberg, click the audio labelled: Food technologist Gary Sandberg on best before dates.

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