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Three facts about best-before dates that can save you money

You've whipped up a family favourite for dinner – maybe it's fajitas or a big pot of your homemade chili.

You reach into the fridge for the appropriate sides and toppings and notice that the unopened container of sour cream has passed the best-before date.

Does that mean you have to forgo the cooling tang of the sour cream to balance out the extra hot peppers you included in the recipe?

Should you automatically toss it in the garbage?

Not necessarily.

Here are three simple ways you can use best-before dates to save money and reduce unnecessary food waste.

1. Know the difference between a best-before date and an expiration date

Expiration dates and best-before dates are not the same thing.

An expiration date is the last day a food is safe to eat. Expiration dates are required on only a small number of foods, such as infant formula and meal replacements. In those cases, it's not safe to consume those products after the date has passed and they should be disposed of. 

Best-before dates are about food freshness, quality and how long the food should last unopened—not about food safety. Simply put, a best-before date is the timeframe when a product will be at its tastiest and freshest. After that date, the product may still be edible, but might not look or taste quite as good.

2. Check it out before you chuck it out

There's a common misconception that after a package of food has passed its best-before date, you shouldn't eat it. Best-before dates indicate when packaged food will be at its peak in terms of flavour and freshness.

If stored according to the instructions on the package an unopened food product could still be eaten days or even weeks after the best-before date has passed.

Use your judgement, open the package and look for signs of spoilage, such as mould or a funky odor. Keep in mind that some foods will become unsafe before they spoil so follow safe food storage guidelines.

You may often find that using something beyond its best-before date is perfectly fine and can help reduce your food waste. Products such as canned goods or dried pasta may also have best-before dates, but those are not actually required.

3. More foods include best-before dates than required by Canadian law

Keep an eye out for savings. Not all foods, like fresh produce, require best-before dates. However, the food industry can still choose to put a best-before date and many do, which often results in sales when the date approaches.

For example, if you buy a tub of yogurt the day before the best-before date, your local grocery store may offer you up to 50 per cent off.

Learn more about date labelling and food safety

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