What Do The Expiry Dates Mean? What Can You Still Eat?

Did you know that more than $31 billion worth of food is thrown out every year in Canada? It’s a shocking number, and even more so when you consider the fact that almost a million Canadians rely on food banks for survival each month. There are countless issues contributing to the global concern of food waste, such as cooking too much, not finishing their food, and imperfect vegetables and fruits getting thrown out.

But there is one significant issue that may perhaps surprise you when it comes to food waste, and it’s the confusion of expiration dates. According to a blog post on foodstarter.ca, the two most common causes of food going to waste are that it’s either past its expiration date or that it’s gone bad too quickly.


Food that is past its expiration date can still be safe to eat.

That good ol’ “can you smell this for a second?” or “does this look right to you?” or “can you taste test this” may sometimes do the trick, but food that may cause foodborne illness are often indiscernible by its look, smell, or taste. The various labelling on products like “best before” date, expiration date, and “use by” date all have different meanings. Understanding what each term means can be useful in helping reduce your own food waste.


“Best before” Date

The products with “best before” dates on them are products that are best enjoyed within 90 days. And they often come with storage instructions. But the “best before” date differs from the expiration date in that the food with a “best before” date can still be enjoyed after the indicated date, and that it is applied to unopened products; it just likely won’t be as fresh or retain the full nutritional value.  For example, an egg after its “best before” date will have a less plump yolk, but it can still be edible.


Expiration Date

According to Canada Food Inspection Agency, expiration dates only need to be labelled on five types of products:

  • formulated liquid diets
  • pharmacist-sold foods for low-energy diets
  • baby formula and other human milk substitutes
  • nutritional supplements
  • meal replacements

Unlike products with “best before” dates, foods that are past their expiration date are not recommended for consumption regardless of whether they have been opened or not.


There are a lot of foods that you can eat past its date.

1. Canned goods: As long as they are properly stored and without dents, rusts, or leaks, canned goods often last far beyond its indicated date.

2. Cereal: Who isn’t guilty or eating expired cereal? Desperate times call for desperate stale cornflakes. No shame. They’re not as good, but they’re edible.

3. Hard cheese: A block of cheese sitting in the fridge with some light mould growing on it? Cut off the mould, and it’s often still as good. Hard cheeses can be consumed even weeks after its date.

4. Eggs: Even when past its date, eggs are often still edible—unless it’s rotten, of course. But who actually wants to test the waters by filling the kitchen with a vile smell? Here’s a trick: place an egg in a bowl of water. If it sinks, it’s still safe. If it floats, toss it!

5. Cookies and chips: It may be stale, but is it crumbling in your hands and dry as a rock? If not, it’s likely okay to be consumed. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

6. Frozen foods: The freezer is a severely overlooked method of preservation, in my opinion. Frozen foods last far beyond its indicated date.

7. Bread: Bread moulds fast, and even when it doesn’t, it becomes dry and crumbly once left out for a few days. But we all know the trick of placing it in a freezer. Take out what you need, let it thaw, and it’s as good as new.

8. Dry pasta: Dry pasta is one of the best pantry goods to stock up because they tend to last for years, not that you would need that much time—pasta Tuesdays, anyone?


But of course, every specific food product is different. Canada Food Inspection Agency does recommend that “when in doubt, throw it out.” We don’t want to steer anyone in the direction of food poisoning, but food waste has become such a large issue and it is extremely important to consume whatever you purchase.

Daniel is a Digital Marketing and Content Strategist at SPUD. He graduated from UBC with a degree in English and International Relations with a focus on environmental topics. A wordsmith by day and a bookman by night, he's a self-proclaimed gastronomic snob, a buck-a-shuck addict, a sub-par skier, and a devoted kingsguard of the oxford comma. He also frequents the dog park with a schnauzer named Duke. | Instagram: @dannnyellow

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